Article from iframagazine.com
Regional business summary: East Asia
Back in April, Malaysian timber baron Tan Sri Tiong Hiew King was busy defending himself against suggestions that his ownership of market leader Sin Chew Jit Poh as well as Guangming Daily was leading to accusations of a monopoly. “In a free market where there is free competition, how can there be a monopoly?” he asked in a speech.
How much harder it must be to answer that question now that Tan Sri Tiong, who also owns Ming Pao Daily News in Hong Kong, is the controlling shareholder of Nanyang, which publishes the ailing Nanyang Siang Pau and the buoyant China Press. That leaves just one big city Chinese-language newspaper that he doesn’t own – the Oriental Daily News, an upstart outsider started by a rival timber baron. Unusually for an overseas Chinese press baron, Tan Sri Tiong has been candid about his role, admitting: “To be honest, in the course of my involvement in the newspaper industry, there have not been many occasions of joy and contentment, but rather more burdens and responsibilities.”
Such concerns have not daunted Richard Li, son of Superman Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest man, from joining the newspaper owners’ club with the purchase of the Hong Kong Economic Journal for an estimated US$ 36 million. What he plans to do to this shopworn pearl of the upmarket Hong Kong newspaper market remains unclear. His role is reportedly limited to the commercial side of the business to begin with, according to the agreement he reached with the owner, the legendary columnist Lam San-miu. Li is supported by Morris Ho – once one of Jimmy Lai’s ablest lieutenants at Next and Apple Daily – so he should not be underestimated.
This was the year that Lai saw the fruits of his labours from Apple Daily Taiwan, which he set up in Taipei in 2003. His newspaper unit saw nearly 19 percent growth for the year ending in April. Advertising income at Apple Daily Taiwan, now with a circulation of 527,609, grew more than 52 percent to HK$ 700 million (US$ 90 million). Not that Lai is resting on his laurels. In October he launched Sharp Daily, a 200,000 copies a day freesheet.
In Hong Kong, even Lai would find it hard to get a foothold in the freesheet market now. Metro Hong Kong, part of the Metro International group, is seen as consistently profitable thanks to its exclusive deal with the MTR subway. Headline Daily, part of the Sing Tao group, has an audited circulation of 600,000 and is thought to be heading for break-even. The third player, am7.30, owned by a maverick real estate agent, face a tough challenge to keep up. With the mass circulation dailies held back by the freesheets, the general market remains buoyant: Hong Kong Economic Times filed its first full-year numbers since listing late in 2005. Net profit rose 51 per cent at HKET to HK$ 98.2 million (US$ 12.6 million) on turnover of HK$ 721.7 million. Paying his dues to his alma mater, HKET chairman and founder Lawrence Fung gave away 10 percent of the company’s share capital (worth US$ 11 million) to the University of Hong Kong.
Freesheet fever continued in Singapore where dominant publisher, Singapore Press Holdings launched My Paper, Chinese free daily. SPH’s paid-for flagship, the Straits Times, pulled in 40 per cent of all readers, heartening for veteran editorial supremo, Cheong Yip Seng, as he takes retirement after almost five decades with the paper.
SPH reported an annual profit of S$ 428.5 million (US$ 274.5 million) on revenue of S$ 1.02 billion.
In IPO-heavy China, no newspaper groups sought the road to the stock market, which Beijing Youth Daily took in late 2004 on the Hong Kong stock market. Guangzhou Daily launched a free daily on the subway as a trial. In press sales, KBA landed its biggest order yet in China at the Zhejiang Daily News Group, while Goss was expected to announce a big order from the Wen Hui/Xinmin group in Shanghai late in the year.
The political crisis that led to the military coup in Thailand in September saw publication of one of the biggest-selling newspapers, Kom Chad Luek, part of the Nation Multimedia Group, suspended for five days after it printed comments that were seen by the then prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, as insulting the monarchy.
The comments came from Manager Group founder Sondhi Limthongkul, who fiercely opposed Thaksin. Thaksin was ousted; Sondhi’s new daily, ThaiDay, which was inserted into the International Herald Tribune, closed – made unviable by pressure from Thaksin, complained Sondhi.
Page first published: 08.11.2006
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