Young Upstarts

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[Singapore] Four Cosmopolitan Girls Start Their Own Material World

Print media in Singapore is not quite spiraling towards doom like its counterparts elsewhere in the world, not with its state-backed media still clinging on to its dominance in the country’s media landscape. But all the signs are pointing towards to a slow but sure decline of print and the ascendancy of the online medium. The latest indication is the launch of online magazine and boutique content agency Material World, helmed by four enterprising young women who previously worked in print publishing.

The four – Deborah Tan, Denise Li, Lili Tan, and Vanessa Tai – most recently worked for Cosmopolitan Singapore, but the allure of starting their own gig in the online publishing industry – one of the sectors that has been projected to see a 110% growth from 2012 to 2017 – proved to be too irresistible.

Material World looks to cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from beauty, shopping, lifestyle, relationships, self-improvement, to fitness and opinions – essentially content that interest their target audience of female readers of most ages. The site will also feature infographics to add visual appeal and provide a more “magazine feel”.

We grab the founders for a short chat about the media industry.

1. The publishing world seems to be rapidly leaving print for digital. In your experience what have been the challenges facing print in the past decade and why you finally opted for a digital platform?

Deborah: First of all, I have to say that publishing isn’t leaving print for digital. Rather, publishing is really looking for ways to marry print and digital to give readers a better experience with their products. I was lucky enough to be the editor-in-chief that put Cosmopolitan Singapore on the tablet and I really hope this integration will result in people valuing magazines and newspapers more.

One of the earliest challenges print faced – I feel – was that of mobility. Yes, a magazine is pretty portable. You buy it off the newsstands and you can take it with you wherever you go. BUT these days, people are ONLY holding on to their mobile phones and tablets. And, because of this, publishers had to learn how to make their print product suitable for mobile devices. This involved cleaner layouts, brighter colors, and more succinct copy.

The next challenge is something print is still facing. That of timeliness. A monthly comes once a month. But a website like Huffington Post is churning out news and articles almost every hour. As a reader, if I wanted to “get with the program”, I would turn to Twitter, Facebook and the web for my materials. The instant connection is something I want to build with my audience and that is why I eventually chose to launch a website like Material World.

Denise: Print in Singapore is subject to the constraints of censorship. The same rules do not apply to the digital platform. As such, we hope Material World will be able to address more honestly some of the real and pressing concerns that women in Singapore find it hard to talk about or discuss openly.

Material World founders (from left): Deborah Tan, Denise Li, Lili Tan and Vanessa Tai

2. What do you see are the biggest opportunities in the online space for publishing?

Denise: Singapore has no shortage of lifestyle websites. However, we feel there is currently a lack of good content out there.

Deborah: And I think this is made worse by the fact that everyone wants everything so fast! Time for research and interviews becomes a “nice to have”. And we really, really hate that. So, to answer your question, QUALITY content is an opportunity in itself. Get it done properly and everything will fall into place nicely.

Vanessa: I like that on digital, instead of traditional ways of presenting information, we now have an entire arsenal at our disposal. We really hope our Infographics section will show readers how data and information can be presented in an exciting manner on the web.

Denise: Advertisers are starting to shift some of their budgets from traditional media to new media. When Material World’s website becomes more established, we hope they will start to see it as a space that gives them good ROI (return on investment) for their ad dollars.

Deborah: One thing I learned in my years in publishing is that you can’t force the issue. If your product is good, people will want it. When people want it, your advertisers will follow. If you asked me to give you a price for advertising on Material World’s website, I would not be able to give you a definitive answer. I want to be able to believe in the stuff that advertises on the site, I have to see that the association will benefit my readers. If you read the credo of Material World on our website, you’ll see that our true passion lies in creating quality content.

3. What do you hope to achieve with Material World in the next few years?

Denise: As a content agency, we hope to manage a stable of freelance writers and designers in the near future. We want publishing companies to associate Material World with being able to provide reliably good content 100 percent of the time.

Deborah: I tell people that I want Material World to be the FLY Entertainment for writers and designers. So if you are a freelance writer (or designer) looking to be taken care of by a reputable company, call me! As for the website, I want Material World to be The Huffington Post of Singapore!

4. Starting your own gig is always extremely tough. Why take the plunge?

Lili: We’ve had different people telling us it’s not a good time to launch a business now but, if not now, when? There’s never going to be a “good time” to do something. When you have a great idea and trusted business partners, there’s no stopping you from taking the plunge and achieving what others thought was impossible. As Neil Gaiman said, “And sometimes, when you fall, you fly”.

Deborah: The idea is there, the expertise is there … and most importantly, the passion is there. It’s going to be tough but doing it with people that you like REALLY helps smooth things out a lot!

Daniel Goh is the founder and chief editor of Young | Upstarts, as well as an F&B entrepreneur. Daniel has a background in public relations, and is interested in issues in entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, public relations and the online space. He can be reached at daniel [at] youngupstarts [dot] com.

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