Music fans tune in to the digital revolution

Updated: 2013-04-18 05:32

By Mu Qian (China Daily)

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Music fans tune in to the digital revolution

Legendary magazine Music Heaven is being resurrected online seven years after its last physical issue was published. Mu Qian reports.

Rock music fans in China have had reasons to mourn and celebrate over the last month because of the fates of two popular music magazines.

In March, Western Music published its last issue, while Music Heaven launched a new digital edition - seven years after stopping publication of its physical magazine.

"Half of the international music magazines we subscribed to have stopped their physical editions, like Spin, Ray Gun, Melody Maker, Sounds and many others," says Chen Huanzhong, publisher of the digital Music Heaven. "Going digital is an irrevocable trend for magazines."

The first digital issue of Music Heaven, which iPad users can download for free, has been downloaded about 50,000 times. Chen says he is happy with the figure, although it is still small compared to the physical magazine's circulation of 280,000 copies during its heyday in the 1990s.

Founded in 1992, Music Heaven focused on Western independent rock music, and became popular among Chinese college students and youths who were looking for sounds other than the Hong Kong and Taiwan pop songs that dominated China. For many people at that time, Music Heaven and its attached cassette (or later, CD) was the only channel to get information about the international music scene.

As the Internet began to offer more ways to access information, Music Heaven began to decline, eventually stopping publication in 2006.

Chen was Music Heaven's editor-in-chief from 1995 to 1996. He later worked as distribution director for 21st Century Business Herald and director of digital media under China Mobile's Wireless Music Club.

After years of development of China's digital media, Chen saw an opportunity to resurrect the Music Heaven masthead. Last year he bought the brand from the original company and began work on the digital version.

"Since Music Heaven stopped publication, I haven't really found a magazine that can replace it," Chen says. "I think the digital format gives us a chance to reassemble the group of readers who love independent music."

Chen expects digital Music Heaven's users to consist of the magazine's old readers and a new generation of music fans.

The old readers were mostly college students in the 1990s and early 2000s, and are now in their 30s and 40s. For those readers, who used to pay 12 yuan to buy an issue of Music Heaven out of their monthly living budget of 100 or 200 yuan, it should be easy to pay 6 yuan ($0.97) with their much higher incomes now.

Chen believes the magazine will also attract a group of new readers who are willing to pay for digital content.

"Many people are still not willing to buy a digital magazine. We are not counting on them," Chen says. "The tens of thousands of people who pay will be enough for us."

Music Heaven's resumption is happening at a time when China's struggling music industry is expecting a boom from paid music downloads.

Up to now, downloading music has been virtually free in China, although major music websites such as Baidu and Tencent have licenses to provide music content. The China Record Working Committee, which represents the majority of Chinese music labels, is negotiating with websites about the details of charging for music downloads. The committee's president, Zang Yanbin, says an agreement is expected to be made within the year.

Some e-commerce websites such as and have already begun to sell digital music.

"As music media, we are very much dependent on the music industry," Chen says. "When the industry flourishes, we also have opportunities to develop."

The physical magazine of Music Heaven occasionally walked a risky line because the recordings it provided were not licensed. Now the digital version provides a list that links to songs provided by, a licensed music website.

The content of digital Music Heaven focuses on reviews of international and Chinese independent music. Chen says his company will also provide information through their apps and its WeChat account.

Chen says Music Heaven is no longer a magazine, but a "total media" publication, and he plans to develop a social networking base from the music fans it attracts.

"As to how to develop that function, we will know when the right time comes," he says.