The Horo­scope Mar­ket: Prof­its Writ­ten in the Stars

As­trol­ogy and star signs are gain­ing rapid pop­u­lar­ity among Chi­nese young peo­ple, who pre­fer the West­ern-style horo­scope. Those who fore­saw this are rak­ing in the cash

NewsChina - - CONTENTS - By Li Mingzi

“At 8:19 am on March 23, Mer­cury will be in ret­ro­grade. Retweet to get away from [the bad for­tune brought by] the ret­ro­grade,” is what pop­u­lar horo­scope blog­ger “Alex” posted on the morn­ing of March 23. In just one day, the short mes­sage was retweeted over 60,000 times, ac­com­pa­nied by nearly 5,000 com­ments. Many fol­low­ers ex­claimed that they had been af­fected – they were scolded by their teacher, did some­thing stupid in a test, or lost some­thing. They hoped their bad luck would go away once they retweeted the post.

As­trologers like Alex are rapidly win­ning fans in the Chi­nese on­line com­mu­nity, where their cus­tomers feel they need help to ease their daily stresses and strug­gles, treat­ing the ad­vice they re­ceive as some­thing akin to a ther­apy ses­sion.

“Most [young] peo­ple know what their birth sign is – but this was not com­mon here five years ago,” Ren Yongliang, founder of the pop­u­lar horo­scope app Cece, told NewsChina. He launched his app in 2011 and has more than two mil­lion reg­is­tered users – and it's grow­ing by some 3,000 ev­ery day. In Oc­to­ber 2017, the app was given fund­ing to the tune of 192 mil­lion yuan (US$29.5M) from a pop­u­lar Chi­nese match­mak­ing web­site. “The growth [in the num­ber of Cece's users] has been in­creas­ingly ob­vi­ous in the past two or three years... Young peo­ple like to have their for­tunes told by the app when they are about to date, make new friends or at­tend a job in­ter­view,” Ren said.

A sur­vey by the China Youth Daily in Au­gust 2017 found that 70.3 per­cent of 2,033 re­spon­dents said they knew many peo­ple who liked read­ing their horo­scope through their star sign, rather than us­ing the tra­di­tional Chi­nese an­i­mal-based zo­diac.

Of course, it is no more than ho­cus-pocus, yet still as­trol­ogy is be­com­ing in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar with Chi­nese young peo­ple, es­pe­cially on­line, and it has be­come a growth in­dus­try promis­ing fat prof­its, just as in the West. Ac­cord­ing to in­com­plete sta­tis­tics from IT Juzi, a provider and an­a­lyzer of in­ter­net com­pany data, 66 com­pa­nies are listed un­der the la­bel of “Star Signs,” and at least half were funded be­tween 2014 and 2015. In De­cem­ber 2016, it was re­ported that Cai Yue­dong, founder of Tong­dao, a lead­ing Chi­nese horo­scope and as­trol­ogy busi­ness, sold 60 per­cent of his com­pany stock for 178 mil­lion yuan (US$27.4M).

Signs of Life

Tong­dao, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports, is the mar­ket leader in China's as­trol­ogy busi­ness. It be­came par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar for mak­ing fun of the sup­posed weak­nesses of ev­ery star sign. Its first post in sum­mer 2014, for ex­am­ple, was a car­toon of three Li­brans starv­ing to death on their way to have din­ner to­gether, mock­ing how dif­fi­cult it sup­pos­edly is for them to make a choice.

In just two days, it was re­posted 15,000 times, help­ing first the Tong­dao blog and later, its pub­lic ac­count on chat app Wechat, to quickly rise to promi­nence. The blog alone has more than 14 mil­lion fol­low­ers now.

Amid the heat gen­er­ated by Tong­dao's blog, other horo­scope blogs, ar­ti­cles, videos and pro­grams were spring­ing up. For ex­am­ple, pop­u­lar video web­site IQIYI launched The Star Show in May 2014. Fo­cus­ing on talk­ing about the star signs of pop­u­lar en­ter­tain­ment stars, the pro­gram re­ceived over four mil­lion clicks in the first three episodes. By an­a­lyz­ing star signs in a cre­ative, hip-hop way, the se­ries of short car­toon videos named Xingzuo Buqi­uren (lit­er­ally, “star signs do not ask for help”) has been viewed more than one mil­lion times on Wechat.

This on­line pop­u­lar­ity has also helped pro­mote the busi­ness of off­line pro­fes­sional as­trologers. How­ever, they ar­gue that hav­ing a pro­fes­sional horo­scope done is ac­tu­ally about much more than match­ing per­son­al­ity types and read­ing for­tunes.

Jiang Ying, a pro­fes­sional astrologer, told Newschina that the so-called “se­ri­ous horo­scope” has been “re­born” fol­low­ing the on­line boom. Hav­ing taught her­self as­trol­ogy for quite a few years, Jiang wished to in­tro­duce West­ern-style as­trol­ogy cour­ses to China long ago. Her dream, how­ever, did not come true un­til 2011, when the in­ter­net made it eas­ier to learn.

Ac­cord­ing to Tong­dao's CEO Zhang Jinyuan, the in­ter­net is the big­gest con­trib­u­tor to the rise of horo­scope busi­nesses. “Horoscopes and the in­ter­net are a match made in heaven,” he told Newschina. “The in­ter­net has low­ered the bar for as­trologers, since any­body can get a huge amount of in­for­ma­tion about the stars and con­stel­la­tions, and they cap­i­tal­ize on that to make them­selves sound enig­matic by us­ing ter­mi­nol­ogy like ‘Mer­cury is in ret­ro­grade,'” he added.

In fact, most of China's pro­fes­sional as­trologers learned their as­tro­log­i­cal knowl­edge on­line. Pro­fes­sional astrologer Yao Ye told Newschina that her orig­i­nal knowl­edge about star signs came from an old bul­letin board on Sina China where peo­ple dis­cussed as­trol­ogy skills and trans­lated for­eign ma­te­ri­als for each other.

The founder of the bul­letin board, Li Dingxin, now makes a liv­ing from as­trol­ogy, and cre­ated the video se­ries Xingzuo Buqi­uren. Li said that the wide­spread use of smart­phones was what re­ally fueled the fad for horoscopes. Cece founder Ren said that when he tried to set up a horo­scope web­site be­fore the mo­bile in­ter­net era, the user base was just 60,000, with only 10 per­cent re­main­ing ac­tive.

“Peo­ple like la­bel­ing things now, and horoscopes meet this need, as they can as­so­ciate char­ac­ter­is­tics with star signs,” Zhang said. “This sense of iden­tity brings about no­tice which means de­mand and busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties,” he added.

Fu­tures Mar­ket

Data from the apps them­selves pro­vides the best in­for­ma­tion about the cus­tomer base. For ex­am­ple, data from Tong­dao shows that its core users are be­tween 20 and 26, mostly live in big or wealthy prov­inces like Guang­dong and Zhe­jiang, or cities like

Shang­hai and Bei­jing, and around 60 per­cent are fe­male. Data from IQIYI and sev­eral anony­mous in­de­pen­dent pro­fes­sional as­trologers also marked their cus­tomers with sim­i­lar tags: young, highly-ed­u­cated women liv­ing in big cities.

“I used to think that it showed that read­ing a horo­scope was just en­ter­tain­ing for young peo­ple, but fol­low­ing sev­eral field in­ves­ti­ga­tions, I re­al­ized that it is also an out­let for young peo­ple to re­lease the pres­sure they feel,” Xing Tingt­ing, a pro­fes­sor at the School of Hu­man­i­ties at Shang­hai Uni­ver­sity of Fi­nance and Eco­nomics, told Newschina.

Xing has been study­ing the pop­u­lar­ity of star-sign horoscopes in China since 2014, when a bul­letin board on the cam­pus in­tranet caught her at­ten­tion. It at­tracted more than 10,000 posts per day, most of which were about love prob­lems and job-hunt­ing.

“Those young peo­ple weren't work­ing yet, and their fu­ture was full of un­cer­tainty. Since the older gen­er­a­tion can't give them enough guid­ance or as­sis­tance, they have to look for some­thing else that could help al­le­vi­ate pres­sures or ex­plain their sit­u­a­tion,” Xing said.

“It seems that so­ci­ety has of­fered mul­ti­ple choices for young peo­ple, but in fact, we are still us­ing a sin­gle and sim­ple cri­te­ria to judge whether they are suc­cess­ful or not, whether they are mar­ried, whether they have found a well-paid job, and whether they bought an apart­ment,” she added.

Kai Qian, now 34, said she turned to read­ing her horo­scope when she lost her job five years ago af­ter her com­pany went bank­rupt. Then her hus­band di­vorced her two months later, leav­ing her with a three-year-old daugh­ter.

Although she soon found a new job as a de­signer at an in­ter­net me­dia com­pany, she hoped that read­ing her horo­scope could lead her through and out of the dark­ness. She in­vited a pro­fes­sional astrologer to help check her chart, which told her that her po­si­tion and power would greatly im­prove by the end of 2015, and that by Au­gust 2016, Jupiter, which rep­re­sents good for­tune and promo- tion, and Venus which rep­re­sents wealth, would also ap­pear dur­ing that pe­riod of time.

Af­ter that, Kai ded­i­cated her­self to her work ev­ery day. “I ac­cepted any im­por­tant or dif­fi­cult task... I hoped for noth­ing but to sur­vive that hard time and meet my good for­tune,” she told Newschina. Af­ter a year and a half, Kai was pro­moted to team leader and soon left for an­other com­pany which of­fered her a higher salary.

Although Kai ad­mit­ted that hard work will def­i­nitely lead to suc­cess even without the guid­ance of a horo­scope, she said it was the horo­scope that en­cour­aged her to stick it out. She saw her daily horo­scope as a tonic or that close friend who would al­ways cheer her up. Kai is now us­ing her horoscopes to deal with other is­sues, hop­ing to meet a new man who matches her chart.

Like Kai, many peo­ple who turn to horoscopes have work or per­sonal prob­lems. Ren Yongliang, Cece's founder, said he first turned to as­trol­ogy af­ter his girl­friend dumped him. A class­mate helped check his and his girl­friend's charts, which said their per­son­al­i­ties clashed and they would not get along well with each other.

“It was a light-bulb mo­ment,” Ren re­called. “I wasn't sure if I be­lieved it, but it did re­lieve my anx­i­ety... If science can't give you an an­swer, read­ing your horo­scope is a good out­let to deal with your emo­tions,” he added.

“The big­gest at­trac­tion of as­trol­ogy is that it will give you a sense of mys­tery when an astrologer who does not know you can tell what your prob­lem is and how to solve it,” pro­fes­sional astrologer Yao Ye told NewsChina. “Many peo­ple won't ac­cept a ra­tio­nal anal­y­sis of their prob­lems, but when those prob­lems are at­trib­uted to some­thing out of their con­trol, they read­ily ac­cept it – this is their fate.”

This might help ex­plain why so many horo­scope fans are highly-ed­u­cated – although they may have stud­ied science, they still be­lieve in a higher power.

“Young peo­ple are ac­tu­ally marginal­ized

when they find no way in so­ci­ety to re­move their ner­vous­ness, anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion... Horoscopes give them an ex­te­rior ex­pla­na­tion – it is not your fault. It is how your star sign is mov­ing, but it will be over,” said Pro­fes­sor Xing.

“Psy­cho­log­i­cal re­search found long ago that in a high-pres­sure en­vi­ron­ment, peo­ple tend to find a quick so­lu­tion to their prob­lems,” Zuo Bin, di­rec­tor of the Re­search Cen­ter of So­cial Psy­chol­ogy at Cen­tral China Nor­mal Uni­ver­sity, told Newschina. “For many peo­ple, read­ing their horo­scope is merely a means of deal­ing with the prob­lem, no mat­ter whether they be­lieve in it or not. It is kind of a straw for a drown­ing man to clutch,” he con­tin­ued.

“It is the com­mon­al­ity of help-seek­ers ... Horoscopes pro­vide seek­ers a clue and a frame­work to un­der­stand them­selves and oth­ers by us­ing a sim­ple model to an­a­lyze com­pli­cated things and peo­ple. To many, it is the eas­i­est way to ride out their dif­fi­cul­ties,” he added.

Mone­tiz­ing Fate

No mat­ter why peo­ple like horoscopes, as­trologers are hop­ing to find a way to mon­e­tize the de­sire. “It doesn't mat­ter whether peo­ple be­lieve in horoscopes or not, there will be a mar­ket as long as there is de­mand,” said Tong­dao's CEO Zhang Jinyuan.

“The horo­scope busi­ness has evolved from prob­lem-solv­ing to a cul­tural and so­cial net­work­ing tool. Tong­dao makes talk­ing about star signs in­ter­est­ing, but we don't wish to be a pro­fes­sional or an ex­pert in as­trol­ogy,” he added.

But Tong­dao is good at mar­ket­ing. Based on its blog, Tong­dao is at­tract­ing a grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple to as­trol­ogy, and hooks them by con­stantly cre­at­ing in­ter­est­ing top­ics about star signs and con­duct­ing ac­tiv­i­ties and lotteries for fans. They have also ex­panded their busi­ness off­line, sell­ing prod­ucts like dolls, cups and key chains. This has be­come a brand, with themed cafes and even movies.

At the first re­source ex­change con­fer­ence for na­tional so­cial me­dia held in 2017, Zhang re­vealed that Tong­dao now has a 30 mil­lion­strong group of fans, and its prof­its in 2016 were around 30 mil­lion yuan (US$4.6M). Zhang told Newschina that prod­uct sales made up 60 per­cent of Tong­dao's to­tal rev­enue in 2016.

“When star signs and horoscopes be­come a cul­ture, it will def­i­nitely lead to con­sump­tion,” com­mented Pro­fes­sor Xing. “Young peo­ple don't have any spe­cific re­la­tion­ship with them un­til they be­come a con­sumer.”

Cece is an­other suc­cess. Given that the app is easy to use, and has more than 20,000 “cer­ti­fied” as­trologers, Cece made fat prof­its from charg­ing for con­sul­ta­tions.

“You can re­gard Cece as a com­bi­na­tion of [cab-hail­ing app] Didi Chux­ing and [dat­ing app] Momo,” Cece's CEO Ren Yongliang said. “We con­nect users with as­trologers and set up on­line com­mu­ni­ties for them to in­ter­act.”

Off­line pro­fes­sional as­trologers have also gained. In 2015, Yao Ye quit her job in fi­nance af­ter 11 years to con­cen­trate on as­trol­ogy. She said that at that time, as­trol­ogy was prof­itable enough to sup­port her.

Jiang Ying fo­cused on as­trol­ogy train­ing. Her com­pany now of­fers ser­vices from text­book trans­la­tions to giv­ing lessons and or­ga­niz­ing ex­ams. She told Newschina that most of the stu­dents who passed the ex­ams have cho­sen to work as a pro­fes­sional astrologer, and they can charge from 1,000 to 1,500 yuan (US$154-231) per hour.

“As­trol­ogy is ac­tu­ally just big data which can be used in other in­dus­tries like hu­man re­sources, fi­nance, in­vest­ment and even match­mak­ing and chil­dren's ed­u­ca­tion,” she said.

Ren agreed. He said that he planned to in­tro­duce AI tech­nol­ogy into Cece, since even 20,000 as­trologers are far from enough to re­spond to the thou­sands of ques­tions from users. He added he hoped that ro­bots like Mi­crosoft's Xiaob­ing would help nar­row the gap and bring Cece more net profit by de­creas­ing the ra­tio where Cece has to share prof­its with as­trologers.

Now, hav­ing sensed how big the pie is, in­vestors are flood­ing to the in­dus­try to seize a share. Zhang Jinyuan is look­ing even fur­ther to the fu­ture. He told Newschina that he is try­ing to guide the younger gen­er­a­tion to de­velop an in­ter­est in star signs and horoscopes in­stead of on­line games and comics.

A young man looks at fig­urines from the pop­u­lar Ja­panese anime Saint Seiya. Each char­ac­ter is de­signed based on the 12 zo­diac signs. The anime is ex­tremely pop­u­lar among Chi­nese in their 30s

A vis­i­tor takes photos with a dis­play at an as­trol­ogy fes­ti­val in Guangzhou, Guang­dong prov­ince, July 14, 2016

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.