World: ABRS Analysis - Asian titles ride out recession and remain buoyant

BusinessWeek, Forbes and IHT enjoy the biggest ABRS increases, Lucy Aitken says.

Despite being avid internet users and famed for their early adoption of the latest hi-tech gadgets, those in Asia's high-powered management elite reveal strong ties to ink on paper.

In the face of the hefty challenges presented by global economic recession and Sars, the readership of international media titles has hardly waned among Asia's heavyweight earners. This was the principal message from the latest Asian Business Readership Survey figures, published by Ipsos-RSL.

International media owners will have been breathing a collective sigh of relief: along with its media owner sponsors, Ipsos-RSL took the decision last year to delay ABRS by six months, anticipating improved market conditions.

The delay appears to have paid off.

The previous ABRS, published in October 2001, characterised a growing internationalism and a buoyancy in Asia: the fieldwork had been done before the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and before the impact of the dotcom implosion had been felt. Yet as if portentous, just weeks after ABRS 2001 was published, Time Inc shut down its dedicated panregional title, Asiaweek, hot on the heels of its costly relaunch.

Two-and-a-half years later, Time Asia seems to be compensating for the loss: the title scored the highest average issue readership: 41,888, (18 per cent of the 234,000 sample).

The results meant Time trounced its rival Newsweek in a reversal of fortunes from the 2001 results, which had given Newsweek a slight lead. This was a rare headline in an otherwise largely static survey.

On Time's success, Sherrin Loh, the marketing services director for Time and Fortune Hong Kong, says: "We've invested a lot in Time Asia and were the first to be granted an interview with the new prime minister of Malaysia, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. We're moving up the ladder."

The Asian Wall Street Journal, which has been out in Asia for 30 years and boasts an average issue readership of 38,063, or 16 per cent of the ABRS sample, maintained its position as the most widely read international daily newspaper by a long lead over the International Herald Tribune and the Financial Times.

Dow Jones' weekly title, Far Eastern Economic Review, also boasted 13 per cent penetration among the ABRS audience.

"The two titles have performed well: we have among the highest combined net reach," Alice Chai, the research director on both titles, says. "ABRS is the survey that is most representative of our two titles' readership: affluent people in senior positions. The other two surveys (ATMS and PAX) tend to be a bit too broad and miss out a lot of our readers."

ATMS and PAX certainly boast bigger universes: ATMS, which was released for the first time in three years in November, samples 3.63 million, while PAX, which recently went quarterly, has a 2.1 million-strong universe.

The ABRS universe, however, makes no apology for focusing on quality rather than quantity: this year's universe is also smaller than in 2001: 234,000 senior business executives as opposed to 239,000.

The FT, which was the only daily newspaper to perform well in the ATMS survey, did not emerge quite as well in the ABRS, with less than a third of the readership of the Asian WSJ. But the pink paper, which introduced a dedicated Asian edition in October 2003, may have been at a disadvantage regarding the timing of ABRS's fieldwork. Su-Mei Thompson, the FT's regional managing director in Asia, comments: "We are thrilled to have remained stable in the results. But although we were starting to make some noise about the FT Asia, it didn't have time to bed down before the lion's share of questionnaires were returned. It's a moot point whether the launch actually affected the results."

The IHT attributed its readership increase to a strategy of teaming up with local newspapers in Asia to boost circulation: since 2000 in Korea, for instance, the IHT has been producing an eight-page English section for JoongAng Ilbo, one of the country's leading newspapers.

The IHT's senior vice-president and commercial director, Stephen Dunbar-Johnson, says: "The partnerships with local newspapers have broadened our appeal in Asia and last year we partnered Bloomberg to produce a daily four-page supplement on Asian Business News. We are also brightening up the look of the paper by introducing colour."

Forbes also enjoyed a readership increase in the ABRS. According to William Adamopoulos, the vice-president and managing director for Forbes in Asia-Pacific, the fortnightly title is gaining momentum in the region: "ARBS reaffirmed Forbes as the fastest-growing international magazine."

Loh is conscious of the competition to the current market leader in the fortnightly titles: "Forbes is a newer product in Asia and is growing, albeit from a smaller base from which it has powered ahead."

BusinessWeek and The Economist enjoyed readership increases in the ABRS figures. Hugh McCahey, The Economist's marketing director, says: "The more international titles, such as the IHT, BusinessWeek and The Economist, have all shown improvement, which perhaps might reflect that Asia is looking more internationally rather than pan-regionally."

The ABRS covers eight Asian countries, although it excludes the biggest, China and Japan. Ipsos produces a standalone survey for Japan's readership figures.

Assessing the value of ABRS for agency planners and buyers compiling media schedules, Annette Nazaroff, the head of MindShare Asia-Pacific's Research and Insights, complained that having three separate surveys can be problematic: "The three studies are supported by different publishers and all have their own pluses and minuses."

Referring to the story behind the figures in the latest survey, Nazaroff says: "These titles are very resilient. They've coped with a lot of things very well and nothing much has changed except to say that there's a confidence there that's ridden through it all."

WHAT THE ASIAN EXECUTIVE READS

Average Average Average Average

issue issue issue issue

readership readership readership % readership %

2004 2001 2004 2001

Daily titles

The Asian Wall Street

Journal 38,063 41,042 16 17

International Herald

Tribune 17,964 14,919 8 6

Financial Times 13,234 13,725 6 6

USA Today 4,785 5,882 2 2

Weekly titles

Time 41,888 42,156 18 18

Newsweek 39,996 43,889 17 18

BusinessWeek 37,975 34,861 16 15

Far Eastern Economic

Review 30,936 32,257 13 13

The Economist 23,757 23,234 10 10

Yazhou Zhoukan 18,650 23,186 8 10

Fortnightly titles

Fortune 35,670 38,598 15 16

Forbes 24,505 20,685 10 9

Monthly titles

Reader's Digest

(English) 33,829 34,214 14 14

National Geographic 32,913 35,461 14 15

CFO Asia 20,951 18,152 9 8

Harvard Business

Review 19,513 - 8 -

Reader's Digest

(Chinese) 15,731 19,723 7 8

Business Traveller 13,604 15,448 6 6

Asiamoney 11,198 11,998 5 5

Asia-Inc 7,809 9,573 3 4

Source: Ipsos-RSL Asian Business Readership Survey 2004.

ABRS UNIVERSE, READERSHIP STATUS AND BEHAVIOUR

C-suite 33%

Director and more senior 57%

Average value of business purchases $365,000

Business services decision-maker 56%

IT purchase decision-maker 52%

Do business internationally 58%

Any business air travel 67%

Six or more international business air trips 22%

Use internet 92%

Average personal income $78,000

Own stocks or shares 51%

Own a digital camera/camcorder 56%

Taken a holiday worth $1,500+ per person 44%

ABRS METHODOLOGY

Qualifying establishments are sampled from business directories.

Individuals occupying eligible job functions at selected establishments are identified by telephone screening. Readership and business marketing behaviour is measured via a self-completion questionnaire administered by mail.

Countries: Hong Kong (full coverage); Singapore (full coverage); Indonesia (Jakarta, Surabaya); Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor Bahru); Philippines (Metro-Manila); South Korea (Seoul, Pusan); Taiwan (Taipei, Kaohsiung); Thailand (Bangkok)

Fieldwork period: Sept 2003-Jan 2004.

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