Hiroshi Fujiwara and "Bunshun-ho" tabloid managing editor Manabu Shintani talk about branding theory in an era of extreme change: Part 1​ ​


 30Hiroshi Fujiwara, the founder of fragment design, has been a leading figure in the fashion scene for over 30 years.​ ​​ ​Meanwhile,​ ​Manabu Shintani, the managing editor of Shukan Bunshun, is the creator of the so-called "Bunshun-ho" (Bunshun-cannon) tabloid scoops. After he became editor-in-chief of Shukan Bunshun in 2012,​ ​he turned the magazine into a huge media outlet now known to represent journalism in Japan.​ ​Although their paths have never crossed before,​ ​the two play a crucial role in driving the times. Now that we have experienced a drastic year where COVID-19 forced us to adopt "new normals",​ ​the two will discuss what sort of "branding theory" is required in the coming age.​ ​This interview is brought to you by Ring of Colour in cooperation with JBpress autograph. In the first part of the​ ​3-part interview, Fujiwara takes a look at the "Bunshun-ho" business.

Photography by Ko Tsuchiya / Interview & Edit by Esuke Yamashita & Mio Koumura

- The two of you were both born in,1964.​ ​You grew up breathing the air of the same age.

Fujiwara:​ ​That's right. You worked part-time at​ ​Brooks Brothers when you were a university student, didn't you? How did that lead you to work for Bungeishunju?

Shintani:​ ​​ ​Actually, I wanted to work on​ ​POPEYE, but I didn't get through the screening process at Magazine House. That said, you worked part-time at​ ​POPEYE, didn't you?

Fujiwara:​ ​Yes. I worked in the editing department when I was around​ ​18​ ​or​ ​19​ ​years old after finishing high school. But the company you joined after failing to make it to Magazine House was Bungeishunju. That's quite impressive to me.

Shintani:​ ​I guess that was my fate. Oh, by the way, you know Koichiro Yamamoto, the stylist, don't you?

Fujiwara:​ ​Yes, since the days when I worked for​ ​POPEYE.

Shintani:​ ​We're friends too, and actually, the sweatshirt with the Bunshun Leaks logo that I'm wearing today was made by Koichiro's brand "Stylist Shibutsu." We made3​ ​types of sweatshirts,​ ​220​ ​pieces in total, and over​ ​4,000​ ​people wanted to buy them. Some of them were sold on Mercari for as much as​ ​300,000 yen.


Fujiwara:​ ​That's how things happen these days.

Shintani:​ ​I wore it today because I thought it was one way to show how branding goes these days (laughs).

■ Hiroshi Fujiwara interviews Shintani about the realities of the​ ​Bunshun-ho​ ​business

- To begin with, do you read the Shukan Bunshun?

Fujiwara:​ ​Yes, I do. When I travel on a plane, and the flight attendant asks if I want to read something, I usually ask for "Shukan Bunshun" or "Shukan Shincho." But Bunshun is much more interesting, and I'm not trying to be complaisant when I say that.​ ​

Shintani:​ ​​ ​I'm so happy to hear that. That very word "complaisant" is one of our branding strategies for the Bunshun magazine (laughs).

Fujiwara:​ ​Maybe it's a reflection of my vulgar origins, but I feel that Shincho is a bit too serious.​ ​It doesn't go beyond boundaries.

Shintani:​ ​Shincho is quite cynical, isn't it? It has a lot of pathos and emotions and is more devoted to literature and philosophy. On the other hand, Bunshun has a more cheerful rubbernecking feel to it, as if trying to say "Hey look, what's that over there!" (laughs).

Fujiwara:​ ​Besides "Shukan Bunshun" and "Bungeishunju," what other magazines does Bungeishunju publish?

Shintani:​ ​We have "Bungakukai," "​ ​CREA," and "Sports Graphic Number," for which I am the managing editor. In particular, I am currently pouring a lot of energy into our news website called "Bunshun Online."

In the case of web media, a higher amount of​ ​page views leads to more programmatic advertising revenue, so we're focusing on increasing page views. In April​ ​2019, we integrated "Bunshun Online" into Shukan Bunshun's editorial bureau. We restructured it to make full use of Shukan Bunshun's exclusive scoops to swiftly circulate content on "Bunshun Online."

bunshun_20210104_01The top page of Bunshun Online

As a result, Bunshun Online is now enjoying rapid growth, and the number of its page views increased from around​ ​50​ ​million to about​ ​400 million. So even in this era when magazines struggle to stay afloat, we can still make substantial profits.

Fujiwara:​ ​​ ​Is it a fee-based service?

Shintani:​ ​The "Bunshun Online" website itself is provided free of charge, but to read it in more detail, you have to pay. You might not like this because it's a rather crude topic, but in​ ​, we got the scoop on Ken Watabe, didn't we? At that time, what happened on the business side was that we printed​ ​500,000 copies of the main issue of "Shukan Bunshun" and completely sold them out. Besides, we sold the feature article of "Bunshun Online" on Yahoo and LINE for​ ​​ ​300​ ​yen each. We sold the articles separately.

Within no time at all, we had sold about​ ​40,000 of those articles, achieving​ ​​ ​90​ ​million page views. In addition to that, we received royalties from TV talk shows when they used our story, which quickly added up to tens of millions of yen in revenue from sources other than print magazines.

Nowadays, we editors have to do more than deliver scoops and valuable content; we also have to consider how to turn a profit with this content. Editors originally come into this world with a love of magazines and books, but the reality is that simply producing a good book is not enough to reach the audience. This is the problem that all media outlets are facing nowadays.

Fujiwara:​ ​ I understand that you need some crude stories to publish the real story,​ ​and of course, as a media outlet, you have to make money, but when I actually hear about such business, morally, I think it's wrong.​ ​


Shintani:​ ​I understand your point very well. That's why I keep telling our reporters that we need to strike a balance between generating revenue and protecting our brand as a media outlet. I believe that "there is no high or low when it comes to scoops," so we can cover both politics and entertainment matters, but if revenue becomes the top priority, things will quickly lean toward the crude.

Fujiwara:​ ​The problem is not so much about the media, but about how the digital world should be. As soon as a story goes digital, it becomes a straightforward matter, like purchasing the article for​ ​300​ ​yen. I think this isn't only the media's fault, but also about the price the public is willing to pay. They are willing to pay​ ​300​ ​yen if it's a story about Ken Watabe.

Shintani:​ ​You have excellent insight, but that's exactly what the digital world is like, and to put it bluntly, you can see people have such a strong desire. You can't just talk about ideals.

Fujiwara:​ ​That's right. Moreover, the digital world is anonymous.

Shintani:​ ​It's a world where you can see what people are willing to pay for​ ​without having to dress it up. Therefore,​ ​​ ​the top read articles are mostly crude stories. Under such circumstances, figuring out how to convey the news to the world while protecting the "Bunshun" brand is the most challenging thing.

For example, the case of Katsuyuki Kawai and his wife being arrested for violating the Public Offices Election Law​ ​was triggered by a scoop by "Shukan Bunshun."​ ​Despite allocating a lot of money and human resources going after that scoop, that issue actually didn't sell very well. The story had nothing special in it, and it was the kind of story that a newspaper would run. But after the scoop came out, all sorts of media, investigative authorities, and the Special Investigation Department of Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office started to chase the story, causing a big uproar. As a result, Bunshun was able to gain a reputation as a media outlet that "really does tell the real story" and "takes risks and fights against the unopposed Abe regime."

I don't know if the word "branding" is the right one to use, but this kind of scoop helps us reinforce our brand. Still, these kinds of stories are not enough to run our business. We also need scoops like Ken Watanabe's to survive in the commercial journalism world. Our biggest challenge is how to strike a balance between the two.

Fujiwara:​ ​For better or for worse, you have acquired the nickname "Bunshun-ho",​ ​and it is clear that people see you as biased towards that side.

Shintani:​ ​I guess it depends on your generation.

Fujiwara:​ ​But looking back, Bunshun has always been that kind of magazine, hasn't it?​ ​The incident about Kadokawa's son comes to my mind.

Shintani:​ ​You've come up with a unique one (laughs).

Fujiwara:​ ​That happened in the early​ ​1990s, didn't? That was my first "Bunshun-ho" kind of story, and I remember it very well. You mentioned branding earlier, but don't you think​ ​Makoto Wada's cover drawings are a kind of disguise at this point? The magazine's cover page design is just an illustration of his and the magazine's name, which looks like a four-character idiom. You may be covering the same kind of crude stories as other weekly magazines, but there's something sly about your cover.


Shintani:​ ​Yes, I do feel that we're bringing everything under control with the cover. That's why, no matter how big a scoop we get, we won't put any words on the cover. Makoto Wada's cover illustration is the only cover we have, and we're going to keep it that way.

Fujiwara:​ ​​ ​This just occurred to me. You are also the managing editor for "Sports Graphic Number" at Bungeishunju, so the athletes featured in the magazine could find themselves in the sights of the Bunshun-ho cannon. What happens then? Do you ever think "Well, they always take the trouble to appear in our sports-featured magazine, so maybe we ought to avoid putting them in a Bunshun-ho article"?

Shintani:​ ​No, I don't.

Fujiwara:​ ​So, even though we're doing this interview today, you won't be able to make any considerations for me. If I do something wrong, you will write an article about it (everyone laughs).

Shintani:​ ​That's right (laughs). Just for the record, my motto is "Good scandals make good friends." It means that no matter how close someone is, I will write about them. I am close to some politicians in the Prime Minister's Office, but I write harsh things about them every week. They don't like that, of course, but we still manage to get along. I believe that it will be very risky if we start showing special considerations or thinking that we should stop criticizing the ruling party or the opposition party based on the current political situation.

Fujiwara:​ ​As a media outlet, that will ruin you. Your branding efforts will fall flat.

Shintani:​ ​Our stories are always based on facts. I often say, "Be humble in front of the facts." I think that's the indispensable lifeline of Bunshun, and it's also something we have to uphold.

 In 2016, we had an article about Akira Amari (then State Minister for Economic and Fiscal Policy, State Minister for Economic Revitalization, and Minister in charge of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)) of the Liberal Democratic Party receiving cash wrapped in a bag of yokan (bean jelly) in his office. It was just like a bribing scene in the long-running historical drama series "Mito Komon."​ ​​ ​After we interviewed him directly, I got a phone call from a key figure in the Prime Minister's Office I was close to. "We want to send Mr. Amari to the​ ​TPP​ ​signing ceremony since he worked so hard on it. Moreover, the people who gave him the cash are of the reprobate variety, so we'd appreciate it if you could rescind that article" he pleaded.


Fujiwara:​ ​​ ​That gave you an even better reason to write about it (laughs).

Shintani:​ ​They even insisted that they would come to my office immediately, but I refused, saying, "It's not good to receive cash from people of the reprobate variety." Mr. Amari ended up resigning from his position as Minister and was unable to go to the​ ​TPP​ ​signing ceremony, which he had put so much effort into. My friendship with the person who pleaded me not to publish the article was shattered then.​ ​About a year later, the person called me and asked me to have dinner as if nothing had happened. Of course, I went. This kind of thing has happened so many times.

Do you have a motto like "Good scandals make good friends"?

Fujiwara:​ ​Not particularly, but my father, who was a professional cyclist, always told me, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

Shintani:​ ​And that's exactly how you live your life (laughs).

Hiroshi Fujiwara and "Bunshun-ho" tabloid managing editor Manabu Shintani talk about branding theory in an era of extreme change: Part 2