Asia defies global newspaper meltdown

Asian newspapers are defying the global print media meltdown while their counterparts in the West spill red ink and lay off staff in droves as readers flock to online news.

Print advertising - the lifeblood of a newspaper's revenue base - has plunged 47 percent in the hard-hit North American market since 2005, while the outlook for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) remains tepid, says a new study by global consultancy Pricewaterhouse Coopers.

However, Asia's newspaper advertising is expected to rise 3.1 percent annually through 2014 to 27.3 billion US dollars, according to PwC's "Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2010-2014."

The trend toward online news has been slower in Asia where newspapers remain popular, including Japan which has the world's highest newspaper readership.

"In Asia Pacific and Latin America...newspaper readership has held up and is increasing, which accounts for their stronger performance in recent years and faster growth rates compared with North America and EMEA in the next five years," the report said.

Spending in Asia's newspaper sector will rise at 2.3 percent annually through 2014, it added.

In Hong Kong, the city's myriad Chinese and English-language newspapers wage a daily battle for readers in one of the world's most saturated newspaper markets.

Leading tabloid Apple Daily boosts its coverage with fanciful animated depictions of gruesome and violent news stories, and employs an army of young reporters who will stop at little to get the story.

"It is cut-throat competition," says Cheng Ming-yan, Apple's chief editor, adding, "We're not conservative - we have very aggressive reporting."

Number-one selling Oriental Daily News (ODN) once sued its bitter rival Apple over claims that its reporters tricked ODN colleagues into divulging exclusive stories.

"It is pretty intense - Hong Kong has always been a newspaper town," said Steve Shellum, executive editor of the English-language daily The Standard.

Newspapers reach almost 80 percent of adults in Hong Kong, a city of seven million, and its two biggest-selling papers each claim a daily readership above 1.2 million, according to "World Press Trends 2010" produced by newspaper association WAN-IFRA.

"Chinese people are eager to get information from newspapers because, traditionally, that was the way their mother and father spent their leisure time," said Cheng at Apple Daily.

But circulation at Hong Kong's paid dailies has still been dropping as free newspapers muscle in on their turf.

Apple not only plans to continue using cartoon animations in its print edition, it is also moving to video with sometimes questionable depictions of news - all in a bid to attract the next generation.

"It's very important and will become more important. Young people have grown up with cartoons - they want the image," Cheng said.

Apple's computer-generated video of Tiger Woods' now ex-wife running after his car swinging a golf club - after hearing of the golf legend's infidelities - was an Internet sensation, and seems unlikely to be a one-hit wonder.

"Our new business is to focus on live animation news," Cheng said.

That swing to online and video news will ultimately spell doom for newspapers even in the Asian market, said Chan Yuen-ying, director of the University of Hong Kong's journalism school.

"(The decline) is hitting Asia slower and media owners still have some time, but the door is closing," Chan said.

"I don't think there is reason to be optimistic."

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