ASIA REPORT: NEWSPAPER BUSINESS REVIEW - With huge circulations and a thriving tradition of newspaper reading, titles across Asia seem set to overcome such problems as price wars, recession and even threats to free speech. Steve Shipside looks at key titl



’The Japanese economic crisis is largely down to finance companies’,

says So Tsuchiya, ad director of the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest

circulation newspaper. ’Since the Japanese economy is based on

manufacturing, a weak yen may not be so bad, and manufacturing companies

are making record profits in world markets. But personal consumption is

down and a fear of lay-offs, combined with the Yamaichi and Taku-gin

collapses, mean individuals are putting their incomes in post office


While Japan may be facing up to redundancies for the first time, the ad

market is, if anything, up. According to Dentsu, the Godzilla of ad

agencies, adspend last year hit a record high of 5.99 trillion yen

(dollars 47.92 billion).

The topography of the newspaper landscape also remains largely


There are three main Japanese national papers - Yomiuri Shimbun, Asahi

Shimbun and Nihon Keizai Shimbun. The Yomiuri Shimbun has more than ten

million readers - and that’s just the morning edition. The evening

edition pulls in another four million. The Asahi Shimbun, at 8.3

million, enjoys a circulation European editors would sell close family

members for. The third title, often referred to as Nikkei, has less than

three million readers but, as Alan Lammin, vice-president of Japan World

Business Week, points out: ’It’s a blend of the FT and the Wall Street

Journal - an ’in your dreams’ title in terms of reach and


’Newspapers are thought of as the most trusted source of information in

Japan,’ says Erika Yamaguchi, account executive at Asahi Shimbun’s

advertising agency, Standard Advertising - and that translates into a

stable market with a number of perennial favourites thriving off the ad

revenues. The rest of the daily landscape is taken up by five more

nationals - Mainichi Shimbun, Sankei Shimbun, Seikyo Shimbun, Daily

Gendai and the evening paper, Fuji - six finance papers and 14 sports

titles; giving an idea of the principal interests of Japanese


Even with curbed consumer spending, the Japanese newspaper market looks

well placed to ride out the financial storm and continue to grow - not

least since the influx of foreign advertising has increased as overseas

companies try to capitalise on a weaker yen to buy into Japanese



Hong Kong is clearly breathing a different oxygen from the rest of us -

something with a high octane content perhaps - and the frenetic

competition that typifies the ex-colony’s business appears to have

survived last year’s handover to mainland China.

Despite a series of insulting comments directed at Communist China’s

leadership, the colourful entrepreneur, Jimmy Li, is still there, as is

his newspaper, the Apple Daily. Not that free speech is suddenly the

order of the day - Chris Patten wasn’t the first to fall foul of Rupert

Murdoch’s connections with China, and Star TV still doesn’t carry BBC

news reports for fear of offending the authorities.

However, while the continuing presence of the Apple Daily is an

encouraging sign in terms of publishing freedom, it is a mixed blessing

for the other Hong Kong titles. The price war Apple sparked off last

year is continuing regardless of political rule and it, in conjunction

with the current economic crisis, is causing serious problems for even

established papers. The Tin Tin Daily closed recently as did the

Express, a five-year-old Chinese language title.

The fight goes on, however, between Apple and the Oriental Daily. The

Oriental has cut its price to HKdollars 3, as against Apple’s HKdollars

5, in an attempt to fight fire with fire. Apple’s circulation is still

running at around 300,000 to the Oriental’s 500,000, so there’s no end

in sight to the scuffle.

In the long term, the Hong Kong market is probably too buoyant to be

kept down, but recent currency problems and a drop in property prices

has led to an advertising slump. Lesley Kelley, the advertising director

of the Far East Economic Review, notes that ’the currency crisis has

seen closing of restaurants, hotels and other key indicators of the

local economy so, of course, this has affected advertising.

’But things turn around so fast here, and we’ve seen slumps before with

the likes of Tiananmen Square.’

The Hong Kong newspaper industry has also found itself at the centre of

scandal recently, with the news that while three executives from the

Hong Kong Standard are facing corruption charges (for falsifying

circulations), the paper’s pro-mainland owner, Sally Aw, has not been

charged. To some, this validates fears that the handover would lead not

only to Beijing’s domination a year, but also state corruption, and

critics of the government are calling for a firmer and more transparent



’All the major papers are still state-owned and controlled titles’,

David Ma, the general manager of J. Walter Thompson Shanghai, says. ’But

there is also room for independents. In Shanghai, we have the Shin Min

evening paper which has a three million circulation - good for a title

which is more like a foreign paper with news, entertainment and sports

sections.’ Entertainment seems to be the biggest change in the Chinese

market with listings becoming an issue. ’In particular, there are now

colour weeklies largely based around listings - two or three are

launching in Shanghai alone, including the Shanghai Times.’ The idea of

colour represents a minor cultural revolution, since Chinese papers have

traditionally been printed in mono on low-quality pulp due to a shortage

of repro houses and colour presses.

That aside, the market in the People’s Republic appears to remain firmly

in the grip of the traditional (some would say entrenched) party


’The People’s Daily (Ren Ming Ribao) is still the principal national

with a two million circulation,’ Tiffany Hu, head of media at JWT

Shanghai, confirms. ’Then there’s the Guant Ming Ribao, the Bright

Daily, with around 1.5 million, and the likes of the China Daily,

published from Beijing, but with a national coverage and a circulation

of 800,000.’

In such a vast country, however, and with a variety of languages, it’s

not surprising that the regional press enjoys a healthy market


Increasingly, the big titles, such as the People’s Daily, publish

regional editions.There is also a market for digest papers that

cherry-pick from other titles and magazines. One, the Bao Kan Wen Zhai,

has a circulation of two million.

Papers remain relatively cheap and the World Association of Newspapers

reports that not only has newspaper ad revenue overtaken that of

television, but that it is predicted to grow at a rate of 20 per cent a


The end of the state distribution monopoly, plus the appearance of the

first private press group (the Guangzhou Daily Group), bodes well for

the future. China’s media may have much ground to catch up on the West

(and, indeed, Hong Kong) but the race is on to make up ground and square

up for the forthcoming competition with satellite television channels

such as Rupert Murdoch’s Star.


English-language newspapers in India tend to be well established. The

Statesman, for example (with a circulation of 164,000 in Calcutta and

West Bengal) was founded in 1875, evolving from the Friend of India

which itself was founded in 1818. Such titles are engaged in

long-standing circulation battles.

’We’re the top English paper in India,’ Peter Subramanyam, UK

representative for the Hindu (founded 1878), claims. ’We’re ahead of the

Hindustan Times and the Statesman with a circulation at nearly 700,000 a

day - about the same as the Times of India.’

The Times, however, claims a circulation nudging towards the million

mark, which would place it as the highest selling Indian newspaper in

any language. But Subramanyam warns: ’The Times is a family paper and

the three main regions (Bombay, Calcutta and Delhi) have been divided


But the Hindu has had its own problems before now, not least a lack of

advertising from the Madras government (where it is based) after a

political spat.

In northern India, the Hindustan Times claims the highest sales for an

English-language paper with a stated circulation of around 500,000


In the non-English speaking market, the principal players continue to be

the Malayala Manorama (Malayam), the Gujarat Samachar (Gujarat), the

Punjab Kesar and AJ (both Hindi), and Mathrubhumi (Malayam), all with

circulations of more than 600,000. Afternoon papers are also popular,

such as the Afternoon Despatch and Courier, the leading tabloid in

Bombay, with a circulation of more than 80,000.

Circulation figures may seem low for a country with a population of more

than 900 million people but newspapers count as a relative luxury and

are shared by large families.


The most famous paper in Singapore, the Straits Times, is more than 150

years old, and is the flagship publication of the publicly listed

Singapore Press Holdings group. The most widely read newspaper in

Singapore, it is distributed from China to Australia and has an audited

circulation of 367,100 copies on weekdays. The Singapore Press says

readership, rather than sales, hovers at 1.17 million on weekdays. ’It

doesn’t have to sell advertising,’ was one rival’s comment.

But trouble still looms for Singapore in the shape of problems in

neighbouring Malaysia. Adspends have been slashed, especially in the

luxury goods market.

As a result, agencies have been among the hardest hit and undercutting

on commissions is increasingly common.

Many agencies are now accepting a retainer or undertaking a fixed-fee

basis for work in return for a degree of security. The catch is the way

media placement works in Singapore. Many companies go to an advertising

agency for media buying because the newspapers have to offer a 15 per

cent discount to agencies. This is either split between agency and

client or treated as the agency’s commission.

In the fixed-fee deals, the tables are turned - and clients expect that

discount to be returned to them as part of their commission.

The news that the Indonesian smoke haze has returned - with its expected

negative effect on the tourist trade - does not bode well for the media

community of the Lion City.


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