Why is the NY Observer launching a new print publication for upscale Chinese tourists?

New York Observer President Christopher Barnes says “entrepreneurial” niche publications are a key part of his company’s business strategy. His latest start-up vividly demonstrates that point.

The Observer Media Group this month will debut a publication called YUE, which it describes as a bilingual Chinese/English “luxury magazine centered on New York’s chic lifestyle.” Targeted at upscale Chinese tourists and business travelers, the magazine is named after a character in the Chinese alphabet. (It’s pronounced sort of like “YOU-ay” … or if you’re Canadian, you might write it as “YOU-eh?”)

“I was meeting with clients who advertise in the Observer, and they told me a lot of the people who were spending money are Chinese,” Barnes said in a phone interview. “I started looking into who was marketing to this group, and the things that I came across were not very sophisticated.”

According to the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau, more than a quarter million tourists visited the city last year from mainland China and Hong Kong, spending an average of about $3,300 each.

Li Jian Rong, left, and her husband, Cao Yin, tourists from Kun Ming, China, get a view of the city from atop the Empire State building in New York, in this June 21 , 2007 file photo. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

YUE will try to attract them with a glossy quarterly publication featuring articles and ads about fashion, shopping, nightlife, real estate, and “notable Chinese icons.” Barnes said the first issue will run about a hundred pages – about half of them ads for high-end retailers and products.

“There’s a very strong group of luxury advertisers straight out the door,” Barnes said.

YUE will be the sixth venture that Observer Media Group has launched this year. While its flagship weekly newspaper — which specializes in politics, arts, culture, and real estate – has always exuded an air of Manhattan-centric exclusivity, the company’s newer products serve even tighter demographics.

There’s GalleristNY, a new website for arts enthusiasts, Scooter magazine for Manhattan parents, and now YUE, which will debut as a print-only publication, with 35,000 copies distributed free at such places as hotels, airline VIP lounges, and New York cultural sites.

“Our philosophy is to be entrepreneurial and take risks,” Barnes said. “We’re always trying to create targeted products that may satisfy a need that doesn’t exist currently.”

Some former employees have criticized Barnes and Observer Media Group owner Jared Kushner for embracing the new ad-heavy luxury publications and advertorial supplements, reports Adweek’s Dylan Byers. Critics say such products have diluted the New York Observer’s legacy of independent journalism.

Barnes dismissed those concerns.

“We’re continuing to put tremendous resources behind the Observer, and each of these new entities is helping support journalism at the Observer,” he said.

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