Asian print media are on the ropes


Singapore Press Holdings, the publisher of the city-state’s largest newspaper, The Straits Times, said on Oct. 17 it would cut up to 10% of its roughly 4,200 employees over the next two years to cut costs. operation.

The company suffered from declining advertising and broadcast revenues amid an onslaught from emerging online media. Net profit for the year ended August fell 17.5% to S $ 265 million (S $ 189 million), while revenue fell 4.5% to S $ 1.12 billion despite support from the company’s real estate business, where revenue rose 4.6% to S $ 241.3. mr.

“We had to make tough decisions on cost control measures to improve operational efficiency,” said Alan Chan, managing director, in a statement.

The fate of Singapore Press reflects how difficult the environment has become for regional print media. The company enjoys a relatively favorable position as the sole newspaper publisher in the city-state, and although it is not owned by the government, the content of its publications is heavily influenced by the authorities, resulting in does semi-compulsory reading for government officials and businesses looking to better understand policy making. Despite this, The Straits Times’ average daily circulation fell to around 276,000 in August, from more than 300,000 a year earlier.

The problem is even more acute for the publisher’s tabloids, whose content is more widely available for free online. In addition to downsizing, the company intends to merge two of its tabloids into one free newspaper from December.

“I used to read the newspaper on long bus and train journeys. I liked their writing style and down-to-earth content, ”recalls Anand Singh, a Singaporean in his forties who works in a restaurant and was a frequent reader of one of the tabloids. Singapore Press until about five years ago. “I guess I stopped reading it after owning a smartphone,” he added.

Oliver Wilkinson, chief strategy officer at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Singapore, says the outlook for print media in other countries is even bleaker. “Singapore is a rare country where print is the most [share of the] Total ad spend pie at around 50 percent, ”compared to a global average that has fallen to around 30 percent, he said.

Other Southeast Asian countries have seen a number of newspapers closed in recent years. The Jakarta Globe, an English-language daily published by BeritaSatu Media Holdings, owned by Indonesian conglomerate Lippo Group, ceased printing last December after seven years of existence and is now only available online. Lippo had restructured four of its media outlets over several years, resulting in more than 100 job cuts. In Malaysia, weak sales led KiniBiz to shut down its bimonthly print magazine and online versions in February, nearly three years after launching the publication.

Advanced economies with higher internet and smartphone penetration are witnessing an even faster decline in print media. According to PwC, the newspaper industry in Hong Kong is expected to contract at a compound annual rate of 5.4% between 2015 and 2020, making it one of the worst performers in the Asia-Pacific region. Australia (-1.7%), Japan (-2%), New Zealand (-4.4%) and South Korea (-2.1%) are also expected to record declines over the course of the period. Newspaper publishing revenues in the region peaked in 2013 and are expected to decline by around 6% by 2020.

Taiwan’s China Times Group and United Daily News Group integrated their financial and evening newspapers to reduce labor costs. Another major newspaper, Apple Daily, a unit of the Hong Kong-listed media conglomerate Next Digital, offered journalists early retirement earlier this year. A number of senior management have since left the company. In South Korea, Hankook Ilbo, the parent company of the Korea Times, was acquired last year by Dongwha Group, a wood materials company, after the publisher filed for court protection in 2013 at the following a case of embezzlement.

There are concerns that the consolidation of publications and takeovers by non-media companies may influence editorial independence and the diversity of journalism. In New Zealand, two media companies have proposed a merger that would create a virtual monopoly in the country’s newspaper industry. As companies insist the merger will allow them to compete with global online networks such as Facebook, critics argued that the merged company would have too much power in the country’s media landscape.

There are similar concerns in the Philippines as well. The large telecommunications group PLDT, a subsidiary of the Indonesian conglomerate Salim Group, acquired a majority stake in the popular newspaper The Philippine Star in 2014. The group also has a minority stake in the influential Philippine Daily Inquirer. Although PLDT chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan has said that investing in media is part of the group’s content strategy, some speculate that they could buy influence to help improve its businesses, which are mainly utilities.

The Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Holding GroupThe $ 266 million acquisition of the English-language Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post, finalized in April, raised concerns that the deal was more of a Chinese firm’s attempt to strengthen its influence abroad than ‘a financial investment. Fears have also grown over the newspaper’s editorial independence following a comment by Alibaba’s executive vice president Joseph Tsai in an interview, in which he said the e-commerce company would use the SCMP to make China’s coverage “balanced and fair” as it sees it. The mainstream Western media will cover China “through a very special prism”.

The public credibility of the print media in the territory has fallen to its lowest point since the transfer of sovereignty in 1997, according to a survey conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong almost every three years. The most recent, released in September, found the overall credibility rating of 11 paid newspapers to be 5.58, down from 5.80 three years ago, on a scale of 1 to 10.

Clement So York-kee, a university professor who oversaw the investigation, pointed to the deterioration of press freedom, self-censorship and the lack of sufficient funding to do journalism due to “difficulties in managing media. media organizations’ as the main reasons. for collapsing credibility.

Hong Kong’s latest press freedom index, compiled by the Hong Kong Journalists Association in March, also fell to an all-time low. President Sham Yee-lan has expressed “concerns” that press freedom in the territory has been eroded at its roots. The association further warned in July that increased control of the media by mainland Chinese government and businesses is causing “an overflow of ideological control over China.”

India appears to be an exception, as newspapers are still a growing industry there. The government’s focus on education has improved the literacy rate in recent years, which in turn has led to a growth in newspaper readership, especially in small towns. According to a joint report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and consultancy firm KPMG, newspapers dominated the Indian printing industry last year with 95 percent of revenue.

Although internet penetration is increasing in India, the affordability of newspaper subscriptions for less than 200 rupees ($ 3) per month still attracts readers. According to PwC, the Indian newspaper industry is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 2.7% between 2015 and 2020, one of the fastest in the Asia-Pacific region. “More and more brands are looking to reach middle-class newspaper readers in India, which is boosting newspaper advertising revenue,” added Mr. Wilkinson of PwC.

The large number of local languages ​​in India can also help local newspapers to retain and develop their readers. These newspapers are less exposed to competition than those published in widely spoken languages ​​like English and Chinese, which face competition from their global peers, especially as digitization eliminates the costs of delivery to the foreigner.

English newspapers in cities like Singapore are in the midst of intense international competition. As Singapore Press embarked on diversifying its revenue streams by acquiring companies that run online classifieds websites, the transformation has been slow.

“Seriously, they should have caught the digital wave six years ago,” Aloysius Low, former Singapore Press employee and online media editor, wrote on his Twitter account. Unless they can capitalize on the wave of digitization, other Asian newspapers risk being caught in the storm of international rivalry as language barriers and borders begin to melt.

Nikkei Editors Erwida Maulia, Cheng Ting-Fang, Jennifer Lo, Cliff Venzon, Kiran Sharma, Kim Jaewon, CK Tan, Editor David Brooks and Associate Editor Kenji Kawase contributed to this story.

A version of this article was first published by the Nikkei Asian Review. Website | Subscribe. © 2016 Nikkei Inc. All rights reserved.

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