Archive for the ‘Clast’ Category

The Changing Brand Value of Bape

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

Fourteen years ago this April, two Japanese twenty-three year-olds straight out of vocational colleges with little in the way of professional experience opened up a small boutique fittingly called “Nowhere” in the quiet back-streets of Harajuku. One of the young men was Jun Takahashi — who used his half of the shop to sell his own avant-punk designer brand Under Cover. On the other side of the shop was Nigo — who would soon become the total director behind the international wünder-brand A Bathing Ape (Bape). For the first few months of Nowhere’s existence, the Nigo-side sold adidas and other select import goods, but pressured by the almost instant success of Takahashi’s label, Nigo realized that he needed to start an original brand of his own. Brainstorming with his graphic designer friend Skatething, the two came up with the semi-English phrase “A Bathing Ape in Lukewater” as the brand name and appropriated the gorilla face from the Planet of the Apes films for the visual icon.

Within two years, those ape heads could be seen on half the t-shirts in Harajuku, and the success of Bape ushered in the Ura-Harajuku style moment in Japan. This look combined the casual vibe and comfort of street clothing with the rarity-factor, celebrity-connections, and high price points of designer fashion. Bape’s continued domestic success in the 1990s eventually led to international acclaim. For many years, however, Bape could only be found outside of Japan on the backs of Nigo’s foreign music and graffiti allies and had thus attained a mythic status as the ultimate prize in the hunt for limited-edition apparel (The Face in 1999 called the brand “Truly underground,” totally incognizant of the brand’s mass status in Japan.) Starting with the 2002 opening of Bape’s Busy Work Shop London, however, the brand began its remarkable journey from being a super-rare insider commodity to becoming the clothing of choice for the American hip hop elite and a prop in every other video on MTV.

Although Nigo may not frame his story in marketing language, A Bathing Ape is absolutely an exemplar branding case study for the Japanese market. Nigo is not a fashion designer, nor does he make claims on such titles. His success has been a product of his impeccable skills in marketing and curation: i.e., it’s about what he sells and how he sells rather than what he “creates.” There are probably ten-thousand small T-shirt companies in Japan that use images and themes from Western popular culture and old sci-fi movies, but Nigo was able to masterfully leverage his celebrity connections in the media to create a total lifestyle around the clothing. Bape was never just apparel — the “brand” encompassed concerts and record releases from musicians in Nigo’s orbit, collectible toys, and self-produced media. By only selling clothes through directly-managed retail outlets, Nigo controlled the entire shopping experience from the background music to the architecture (courtesy of Wonderwall) to the long lines and intentionally-unhelpful staff. Instead of fitting his brand to a pre-existing consumer subculture, Nigo just invented his own. And the kids fell into line accordingly.

The Big Change in 2001

Bape’s success stood upon three strategic marketing pillars that emphasized the “underground” brand image at every turn: limited-edition supply, obfuscated stores, and a rejection of traditional advertising. This worked wonders from 1993 to 2001. Everything changed overnight, however, with Bape’s collaboration with soda brand Pepsi. Suddenly, the brand’s trademark ape-faced camouflage was in vending machines all the way from small towns in northern Hokkaido to beach-side huts in Okinawa. Regardless of any intentions of ironic subtext, here was an open acceptance of commodification after a career based on decommodifying the T-shirt and jeans. Although some at the time claimed that the move was not a “sell-out” because of Pepsi’s “outsider” status in Japan (see the similar idea behind the October 2001 Relax issue on Pepsi), the move loudly signaled a new direction for Bape. Nigo no longer seemed apprehensive of going too mass, and large-scale aspirations rerouted his once modest strategy.

Around 2003, Nigo made friends with Pharell Williams from the Neptunes, and this connection made the Bape brand (especially the Bapestar sneakers and colorful camo hoodies) must-haves for hip-hop royalty in the United States. Bape subsequently became a hit item there — a market Nigo had willfully ignored in the ’90s because he had believed selling to Americans was too “mass market.” By the early Aughts, however, his values had changed from emphasizing brand cachet-über-alles to wanting the bling-bling cash-out in the short-term. He could have engaged the American hip hop market while staying true to the limited-edition concept, but once Nigo crossed the Rubicon, he never really even half-heartedly withheld supply to demanding parties besides constructing barriers with the high product prices.

So Goes the Brand

Nigo seems to justify this change as “brand growth/expansion” but this new direction unfortunately created points of radical difference to the original and established brand image. The following outlines the changes to the total brand experience for BAPE:

Consumers: By obviously going for the mass market, Nigo abandoned his core base of fashion-forward teens who had previously believed to be buying a certain level of “safe exclusivity” in A Bathing Ape. Once Nigo started selling to the Chinese cultural sphere in Hong Kong and Taiwan, Japanese fans saw their brand being consumed by a group which they fairly or unfairly considered lower on the global style hierarchy. Even though Bape found a fan base in first-tier American rappers, most Japanese kids in the hip-hop subculture remembered Bape’s old market position too well to be able to use the brand to express belonging to their particular subculture. Before the globalization of the brand, Japanese core consumers only saw the brand being consumed by the proper parties who understood its meaning. The willful abandonment of the founding principles to market to other countries confused this message on the home front.

Supply: Nigo was very careful at first about selling to the Chinese market. His first Hong Kong store had been “by appointment only,” but the brand’s introduction into the Chinese-language world coincided with the mass production of fake Bape by counterfeiters in China and Korea. I remember an Ebay in 2000 with a maximum of three A Bathing Ape t-shirts. Today there are more than 2000 — few of which are real. The supply not only increased over time, but the counterfeiting problem degraded the aura the brand enjoyed in which low quantity implied high quality.

Retail Locations: In Japan, there are Busy Work Shops in almost every major (and minor) metropolitan center. Overseas, New York and London have been or will be soon joined by Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Taipei. Tokyo once had a few select locations, but now there is a surplus of Bape-branded ventures — the BAPE Cuts hair salon, BAPE Café, and a Bape Kids children’s clothing store — each spreading the customer base thinner and thinner. The shopping experience no longer feels special and exclusive or has the air of destination shopping.

Now certainly, we should admit that A Bathing Ape would not have been able to forever keep up the ruse of selling on a mass scale while claiming an underground credibility. Nigo changed the brand partly because he had nowhere left to
go. Nigo himself often claims that “times have changed,” and he is right that “limited-edition” (限定) was a bit of a ’90s phenomenon that outlived its usefulness.

The ’90s phenomenon of exclusivity, however, was core to his brand, and since he will never be able to charge Dior-like prices for his street clothing, abandoning his artificial attempts to control supply (or appear to be doing so) means a decrease in the exclusivity still necessary for his semi-luxury goods to work. Marketing for short-term success and creating a durable brand value are polar opposites, and while anyone would be hard-pressed to write off the current state of Bape as a “failure,” the brand value at least appears to have struggled for the last five years in Japan. As a clothing line that once famously attracting huge lines on the weekends, the Tokyo stores are often quiet, and when populated, have an image of being populated with Chinese-speaking tourists. (Some of the rural locations apparently still attract a large fan base.)

Japanese fashion editors in the 1990s spent year after year privately pronouncing A Bathing Ape “dead,” but the brand kept growing stronger and stronger. I do not want to suggest that Bape has come to any sort of end, but in sheer terms of brand value, Bape has gone from a model of perfection in the Japanese market to a confused hodge-podge of messages, images, and subcultural affiliations. A Bathing Ape’s success in the 1990s Japanese fashion market should be attributed to their brand-centered marketing, and although Nigo was right to abandon some anachronistic parts of his strategy, I can’t help feeling that the concept of unified brand has fallen by the wayside.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

AneCan: Can Cam for Your Big Sister

Monday, March 26th, 2007

Sorry to keep harping on Can Cam week after week, but if there’s a giant elephant in the room, we think it’s best to give the pachyderm detailed coverage. We could hardly ignore the news that Can Cam‘s publisher Shogakukan has started a new spin-off publication of its best-selling mag called AneCan. The first issue hit streets on March 7, accompanied by much fanfare. The name AneCan comes from adding the Japanese word for “big sister” — ane (姉) — to the “Can” of Can Cam. The magazine targets women older than 25 — giving the graduates of the standard Can Cam student/OL look a way to continue their style education well into their late 20s.

The editors have picked the 27 year-old Oshikiri Moe to be AneCan‘s sole mascot model — without the help of her peers Ebihara Yuri and Yamada Yu at the flagship Can Cam. In the former model triumvirate, Yamada was the exotic and sexy Okinawan princess and Ebihara was the textbook definition of “cute.” In contrast, Oshikiri always acted as the more accessible member of the team: She looks very literally like somebody’s older sister. When it comes to commercials from Can Cam models, Oshikiri was selling down-to-earth Dr. Scholl’s leg-related health products rather than fast food or makeup. But now as vanguard of her very own magazine, Oshikiri is being pushed by her powerful management agency to be a major media star — most notably, recently taking a job as the female host on NHK’s English language show “Eigo de Shabera Night.”

Magazines in Japan often create consumer subcultures rather than correspond to a pre-existing groups’ needs, but AneCan has gone one step further. The magazine’s launch went hand-in-hand with a coordinated retail initiative at leading department-store Isetan. On March 14, Senken Shimbun reported that the limited-edition “AneCan Style” shop had sales of 30,000,000 JPY (~$250,000 USD) in just four days. A vast majority of fashion consumers in Japan are almost totally dependent upon fashion magazines as their guides, catalogs, textbooks, and teachers. And now with the level of cooperation between media and retail seen in the AneCan launch, core readers have it even easier to buy the recommended brands and complete the look prescribed by the magazine’s stylist authorities.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

Leon: The Cult of the Italian Middle-Aged Man

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

Coming in at an almost equal gross weight as Can Cam every month is Leon — a fashion magazine aimed at Japanese men in their late 30s and early 40s. The name comes from the Luc Besson film Leon to perhaps channel the good looks and charm of its French middle-aged star Jean Reno (the [now defunct] sister publication for women is naturally called Nikita.) The magazine began publication in 2002 and has attained a certain notoriety in recent years. Although it only runs at a circulation around 92,275 (2007 printer-certified figure), Leon’s identification/creation of an exciting new market segment for bad-boy middle-aged men has made it the center of much social attention.

Leon employs the 45 year-old Italian expatriate Girolamo Panzetta as its cover model and official mascot, and just like with the Can Camsenzoku models,” the suave Neapolitan appears in countless pages of the magazine to show off specific apparel items for readers. Forget the long-held strategy of selling youth to the older generation: most of the models in Leon are older men proudly displaying cases of male pattern baldness and a week’s worth of stubble. Unlike other magazines on the market, not a single Japanese model appears in Leon — except when accidentally used in adjacent advertisements. Most women’s magazine readers aspire towards Japanese celebrities who may indirectly aspire towards the West, but the Leon man’s aspirations are directly pointed towards (white) Western men (and perhaps, the young blond women on the white models’ arm). Many Japanese fashion magazines skim the streets of the world’s major cities for street snaps of the latest international trends, but Leon looks to only one specific foreign locale: Milan, Italy. The magazine is filled with photos upon photos of well-groomed Italian men, and other sections include longer interviews with Italian “experts” on various topics. Leon firmly establishes the original homeland for the self-confident, stylish middle-aged man squarely in the Apennine Peninsula.

Unlike the standard men’s magazine in the West like GQ, Esquire, or even Playboy, Leon has very little in the way of general-interest material, interviews with celebrities, or long-form articles. Almost 95% of the magazine is product information — with a majority of the content veering into unabashed advertorial “tie-up.” All the major luxury brands are represented. For suits, the range spans from Ralph Lauren to Paul Smith to obscure Italian tailors. Few items gain attention outside of apparel — only cigars and whiskeys, but even these generally appear as accessories to a wardrobe rather than areas in which the gentleman should develop expert knowledge.

Some of the content veers so much towards (Japanese perceptions of) Italian male customs that the advice may not be particularly practical within Japan. In the November 2006 issue, for example, Leon recommends spraying a little cologne on your suit jacket label — something I would guess is too aggressive for famously scent-conservative Japan. But the overall Leon styling is not interested in “classic” nor “traditional” looks to begin with. The editors create contemporary and fashionable ensembles that work to enhance the best qualities of the older, masculine male. Watches are enormous. Street wear is acceptable as long as it is classed up a bit, like hooded sweatshirts with fur inner lining. Sometimes this veers into the absurd: Their exemplar burly men often don crocodile skin vests and envelope their girlfriends in long black capes.

The Leon man is a “choi waru oyaji” — a term for a middle-aged man with a bit of a bad-boy charm. Unlike the desire for subcultural “uniforms” seen in youth fashion magazines, Leon does not offer readers a group-specified conformity. The ideal reader may not be a traditional success at a first-tier company, but Leon shows him how to set himself apart through world-class clothing and conspicuous success with younger women. Since most of the readers are men in the 40s, or at least, younger men aspiring to look older, the magazine is more interested in instructing methods of distinction rather than proscribing socially acceptable outfits. Leon readers already know fully well how to wear a blue-suit and not be seen. They are going out of their way in response to conformity to find themselves something with a little more edge. An advertorial piece for Ermenegildo Zegna in the Nov. 2006 issue has the headline “差が付く休日の過ごし方” — the way to pass time on the weekends to separate yourself from others. Leisure is no time to relax in this grand social competition!

Like the young women reading Can Cam, the Leon man feels a need to purchase luxury goods, but his two main purposes for those goods are not “fitting in” to a social standard. He wants differentiation from his peers and the ability to attract younger members of the opposite sex. Although the Leon movement does not have the readership numbers of the Can Cam explosion, that may be for the best: If all the Japanese middle-aged men became a little bit bad in this quasi-Italian imitation, that would only make it that much harder to stand out.

You may not see so many real-life “choi waru oyaji” prowling the streets of Tokyo, but Leon has made itself relevant by creating a sexy, yet plausible consumer subculture that well-reflects the spirit of our time. As Japanese society gets older and teens don’t have the spending power of the previous generation to make society-wide trends, middle-aged men have to pull up the slack. Leon lets them do this in style.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

LOHAS by Default

Monday, March 12th, 2007

Don’t drink, don’t smoke
What do you do
Subtle innuendo follow
There must be something inside
– Adam Ant, “Goody Two Shoes”

This This Nikkei Business Online article summarizes some recent trends in the consumer behavior of Japanese men under-35 (U-35男子). According to the NB‘s findings, the older generation resents younger men (U35男子) for not following the accepted patterns of adult male recreation: namely, indulging in coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, paid sexual services, and gambling. The article may be too overreaching — any trip to a Tokyo bar will remind you that many U-35 men drink in excess and enjoy chain smoking — but the basic message seems to echo a lot of what we are hearing about the somewhat ascetic lifestyle of “young people” in Japan these days. Young men are being called “shirafu danshi” (素面男子) — “sober men.” One would think that the underemployed and undermotivated “freeter” and NEET (Not in Employment, Education, or Training) would at least be drowning out their boredom and career failure in cheap booze and bummed cigarettes, but apparently, they have rejected both as a lifestyle choice.

They don’t like drinking with their bosses or haunting traditional Japanese izakaya. Some of this is a prideful resistance to being lectured by their seniors, and some of it is just a fundamental desire to pass time alone. However, the change in behavior does not seem to be based on a new set of moral values opposing these “sinful” recreations. The question is more of aesthetics and economics. Young men are bewildered why you are supposed to spend so much money to listen to old men chat in loud and smokey places. The U-35 male does not see the need to go visit semi-legal prostitutes when he can just rent adult videos or meet (fake) girls through online dating sites. Tobacco and coffee are out because this new generation is not down with the smell. (NB believes this aversion to stench comes from a spoiled childhood of clean flush toilets.)

Refreshment is the ultimate desire — whether that be from mints, quiet places, aromatherapy, or a nice tea. Walking and talking with friends is important for building human relations — not the marathon shochu sessions of yore.

In the last few years, LOHAS (lifestyles of health and sustainability) has been a strong buzzword in the Japanese media — with dozens of magazine titles like Sotokoto appearing on the scene to cater to this supposed heightened interest in environmental-friendliness and “slow life.” Broadly speaking, this Nikkei Business stereotype of the U-35 man seems to suggest a lifestyle focused on health. These men, however, are not embracing the tenets of LOHAS from a philosophical angle as much as falling into the set pattern of the movement by default. A need for refreshment is not necessarily a dedication to health or the environment.

Many producers seem to be now marketing towards young people through a LOHAS perspective, seeing that the LOHAS aesthetic most closely fits this new pattern of behavior. I have yet to see, however, any real success stories — outside of small service industries like yoga. Marketing towards the U-35 group is not so simple as just framing everything as LOHAS — where the locus of consumption shifts from “unhealthy” to “healthy” items — because these younger males are not specifically nor actively changing their behavior in order to adhere to LOHAS rules. Young people in Japan — especially males — have just grown up in a long recessionary environment and have adapted their behavior away from the joys of spending money. They find joy now in abstention, in the free walk around the block.

This may mean that some products like tobacco could be headed towards a long-term decline, but others like alcohol have a chance of revival. The challenge now is to create new cleaner and fresher contexts for the products which generational and environmental associations have ruined. Alcohol may only be “unrefreshing” because of the traditional locations in which it is served and the general manner in which it is consumed. Since the U-35 crowd are only passively-LOHAS and partially anti-consumer, they could possibly be brought back to the table — if the table is nice and clean.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

Can Cam: The Number One Fashion Magazine in Japan

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

The Japanese magazine market has seen relative decline over the last few years after peaking in 1996. Some blame the increasingly large amount of free information available on the Internet, but the sales drop began well before online media made a significant penetration into the Japanese market. Since most youth-oriented magazines in Japan are mostly “consumer guides” — with loads of product information and very little in the way of critical review — it logically follows that the decrease of consumer budgets in the recessionary environment would cause less need for consumption guidance of the latest and most fabulous items. Whether this is the main reason for decline or not, women’s fashion magazines are generally holding their position against the market turbulence compared to other categories of titles.

One particular magazine Can Cam has seen unmatched growth in the last few years, and broadly speaking, dominates the women’s fashion world. The name derives from an abbreviation of “I Can Campus,” reflecting the magazine’s roots as a publication for college and junior college students. Now the median reader age is 23.02 (2005 data), and more than half of the readers are employed. The publisher reports sales of 715,417 (2006 data), but even Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC)’s more conservative estimate of 594,499 for late 2005 is an astounding sales figure. (For reference, magazines with much wider general audiences and longer histories such as Shukan Bunshun and Shukan Post only hit 575,343 and 436,775 copies in the ABC data from late 2005, respectively.)

Like other magazines, Can Cam peaked in the late 1990s and saw a steady drop in readership. From the nadir of 320,135 in early 2001, sales increased and grew to the current number – entailing an 85% increase in four years. Most attribute the growth to the magazine’s innovative use of senzoku moderu (専属モデル) – a half-dozen young female models who appear exclusively within Can Cam. Each month’s fashion features employ these girls wearing the latest styles and products, and they rarely materialize in rival publications. Readers make strong associations with themselves and these female models and pick up a copy of Can Cam with the guarantee that their favorite will appear in at least 20 to 30 pages of the magazine every month. Rival publications such as Ray, and JJ offer similar content, but the exclusive celebrity models have given Can Cam an edge over the competition. (Titles JJ and ViVi targeted at a similar audience have seen sales fall in the last two years. ) Can Cam’s sales cannot be solely attributed to readership movement within the same fashion look, however. Female fashion magazines in totally different “lifestyle genres” such as non•no and Classy have also seen a decline.

Lately, the most prominent three of these models – Yamada Yu, Ebihara Yuri (aka Ebi-chan), and Oshikiri Moe – have branched out into other media like TV with the backing of their strong-armed production agencies to become stars in their own right. Ebihara in particular has been the “it girl” of the last two years and found herself as a top spokesmodel for many consumer goods.

Young Japanese consumers have always made their fashion choices through strict adherence to “manual magazines,” and the aggregation of females into the Can Cam readership has created a certain level of visual homogeny in the streets. Issues frequently hit 600 pages – almost all of the content dedicated to detailed information on mixing and matching specific apparel items. Although the mass of information presents a large number of possible arrangement options, individual permutations upon the ingredients would all lead to similar results: a style fun and young, safe for work and play. The general strategy is inexpensive clothes augmented with luxury brand accessories, such as bags and jewelry. Hairstyle and make-up advice run somewhere between a catalog (which prices and brand names off to the side) and detailed instructions for scientific experiments.

The Social Phenomenon

The Can Cam style hardly resembles a traditional “conservative” look, but its basic philosophy is fundamentally aligned with the goals of mainstream society. The core readers may want to have fun in college and in their first years serving the corporate world, but there still remains a subtext focusing upon the teleological mission of finding an appropriate husband (and less explicitly, of taking on the responsibilities of wife, then mother). Serious discussion of long-term career would be best served by another publication. For this large class of young women, the clerical assignment immediately following college or junior college is something like a set course of “quaternary education” — a period of life to be passed through as a shared experience with other girls in other firms, and Can Cam provides guidance towards its successful “graduation.” Long ago, there may have been more pressure for girls of this age range to marry earlier, but their current divergence into fun and consumption has become their de facto accepted social task — especially when other segments of society have slacked on their appropriate consumption duties. Choosing luxury brands over domestic concerns is no longer widely regarded as a deviance from the “proper” social path, and in this meaning, Can Cam is “conservative” — albeit a conservatism transformed to meet the realities of today’s society.

Opposed to the “erotic cute” of recent pop idol Koda Kumi or seen in popular lingerie catalog Peach John, Can Cam readers are less determined to use fashion to express their own individuality or show off their sexual appeal and more interested in attracting widespread interest from possible boyfriends. In Japanese, this style is called “mote-kei.” A central concept to the current milieu is the goukon (合コン) — traditional parties where an equal number of boys and girls meet at an izakaya (sit-down bar) and get to know each other. Ebihara Yuri is the golden child of the moment, precisely because of her perfect fit within the goukon paradigm. Rival Can Cam model Yamada Yu on the other hand has a more stylish, sexy image that is somewhat perceived as threatening to boys, and therefore, relatively unsafe for the dating environment. Designer fashion is also a no-no for these dates, although designer bags would not cut into the cuteness.

What is the winning prize in the goukon game? From the looks of Cam Cam’s photographic-comic series “Double Fantasy” (starring Ebihara), dream boyfriends may have stubble and designer haircuts, but they are still in suits. Things have not changed so much since the ’80s when “the Sankou” (tall, well-educated, high salary) was the ideal. Young women, however, may be less “realistic” than their ’80s counterparts, who usually “settled” for a nearby opportunity at their own companies. Can Cam now suggests widespread social desires where liberation is celebrated through brand consumption and communal dreams are upwardly-mobile.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

Japanese Magazines in Freefall

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

On February 1, 2007, the Asahi Shimbun ran an article about the decline in Japanese magazine sales over the last nine years. Total 2006 sales were down 4.4% compared to 2005 — the largest single drop since 1999. As examples of the trend, Asahi offered the following sales comparisons between 1996 and 2006 for several magazines from the Audit Bureau of Circulation:

Shukan Gendai (weekly news magazine): 720K –> 440K

Shukan Post (weekly news magazine): 860K –> 400K

non•no (monthly young women’s fashion and lifestyle magazine): 940K –> 340K

with (monthly women’s fashion and lifestyle magazine): 740K –> 360K

Tokyo Walker (local information magazine): 400K –> 80K

Why is the Japanese market for magazines declining?

Conventional wisdom in the Japanese publishing industry blames the rise of the internet. They fear that readers are gradually moving over to the internet to obtain free information instead of relying on magazines. The problem with this theory, however, is that magazine sales started to decline at a serious rate long before the internet made any sort of serious penetration in Japan. Most titles peaked around 1995 to 1996 and have been free-falling ever since. The internet never really reached significant diffusion rates in Japan until the early 21st century, by which time, magazines had already been in decline for a half-decade. Most importantly, the rates of decline for the titles above were steady show no serious dips once the internet kicks in.

In general, comparing “the internet” and “magazines” is difficult since there are hardly any “web magazines” in Japan that can claim to provide the same kind of information as magazines at the same high quality. In the case of Tokyo Walker, the internet does a fantastic job at putting movie timetables and restaurant maps at right your fingertips — making the print magazine less efficient and basically irrelevant. For fashion magazines, however, it’s a different story. Internet media has yet to prove an authoritarian status. More than just kids wanting to see the latest styles in fashion magazines, they wanted to know which styles have the blessing of the editors — and as an extention, society at large. Internet rivals to non•no may be popping up somewhere, but at this point, brand new web-magazines with the same content would have a hard time convincing young female readers that their consumption guidance is as “safe” as the old printed standard.

The second reason often stated for decline is a heterogenization of tastes. The Asahi article notes that magazines with and non•no are “general” young female readership magazines and do not have specialized audiences. Dentsu magazine analyst Kira Toshihiko is quoted in Asahi as stating that “In the past, it was ‘I will read this because others are reading it.’ Now ‘a me different from others’ has made a presence, and this plays into magazine selection.” Essentially, this theory posits that readers are turning away from magazines, because the identity created through adherence to a specific magazine lifestyle would create a result to close to the identities of others.

Certainly, the Japanese consumer has become less hesitant towards individual preference over time, but the recent success of the young women’s fashion magazine Can Cam strongly challenges a wide application of Kira’s idea. Sales have risen for Can Cam in the last few years at the expense of rival titles. Between the high issue sales, the ubiquity of the “Can Cam look on the streets, and the widespread popularity of the magazine’s models Ebihara Yuri and Yamada Yu, the total popularity of the consumer lifestyle shows that a certain segment of Japanese society — mostly junior college students, university students, and first-year OLs — want to be a part of a fashion lifestyle with lots and lots of other people. The Can Cam reader may not be specifically attracted to the magazine because of the look’s massive presence in the market, but surely they are not reading it because they want to create more distinction between themselves and others.

So what is the reason for a decline in magazine sales? Most definitely, the population decline means less young people, and this has hurt almost all of the major content industries which depend on young consumers. We should also consider the idea that the drop in consumer budgets during this long recessionary and weak economic period caused consumers to need less in guidance in where to spend their discretionary income. Other than the stable “young single female market” that makes up the Can Cam subculture, young people are no longer the leaders in Japanese consumption. Things may have gotten so bad that kids don’t even want to drop ¥600 on the magazine itself, but moreover, who needs fashion guides to construct ¥100,000 outfits of all the hottest brands when you don’t have ¥100,000 lying around? For most of the fashion and lifestyle magazines in Japan, the content is almost exclusively informational guides to products and services rather than essays, articles, interviews, or critique. Magazines are thus entertaining — like window-shopping — but also highly educational in regards to the latest trends, the proper way to style clothes, and which particular brands and items are “essential” for the season. Without the pocket money to act upon this practical guidance, however, these magazines are certainly not worth their cover price.

Although this theory cannot explain the drop in the weekly news and gossip shukanshi‘s sales, one cannot ignore the fact that the fashion and magazine markets peaked at the exact same time — in 1996 — and have been falling steadily ever since. Fashion consumption and fashion magazines have always gone hand-in-hand in Japan, and their decline should thus also be related.

Whatever the case, Japanese magazine publishers have an uphill battle to keep themselves relevant and prospering in an increasingly diverse and desperate market. Clearly, one solution is to follow the success stories of Can Cam and men’s magazine Leon in creating a solid brand identity that matches perfectly with a specific market segment flush with spending money. Otherwise the current market trends are going to sweep the unfocused and unbranded titles right away to sea.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.