Saturday October 23, 2004

Competition heats up among newspapers in Malaysia

By Channel NewsAsia's Malaysia Correspondent Melissa Goh

KUALA LUMPUR : Competition is heating up among news dailies in Malaysia as readers become more discerning and demanding.
While facelifts are helping to boost circulation, ultimately content is still king.
There are three major English language news dailies in Malaysia - the Star, the Sun and the NST or New Straits Times.
And the NST, established in 1845, is the country's oldest newspaper.
But in the last few years, its daily circulation was badly hit - hovering below 140,000. That's down by a fifth from the 180,000 achieved during the mid-90s.
This prompted the management to undertake a series of measures to boast sales, including launching a brand new compact edition.
It is hip, with a tabloid format, although the content is identical to the older broadsheet version.
Mr Syed Faizal Albar, CEO of the The New Straits Times Press, said: "The response has been better than what we expected. We were expecting anything touching 10 percent, we'll be very happy, what we have now is about 15 percent increase in circulation, that's pretty good."
Mr Syed Faizal came on board five years ago, and his target is to raise NST's daily circulation by 40 percent.
Since NST rolled out the compact edition on September first, many readers especially the younger generation have actually preferred the smaller edition to the broad sheet.
But size isn't everything, according to research analyst Jeffrey Tan.
Mr Jeffrey Tan, Senior Research Analyst of Avenue Securities, said: "The other thing is the content. If you compare with competitors like the Star, the Star has got the content right in terms of drawing in the younger generation, younger readers. They've also drawn in the advertisers.
"I think what NST wants to do going down the road with compact edition is to actually tweak the content as well. "
The Star, a tabloid controlled by Malaysia's largest ethnic Chinese party, enjoys the highest circulation of more than 300,000 copies a day.
Among the three major dailies, it's seen as having the most unbiased news reports, and another attraction for readers - the high volume of advertisements which make up 65 percent.of its content.
The other English-language tabloid - the Sun - is a free paper which distributes some 150,000 daily.
Mr Tan added: "The perception is such that NST is still very much aligned to the ruling government. Their hands are tied in the sense of what they are supposed to say and not supposed to say. Press freedom is always an issue even with a change in government and all that."
Media analysts say looking ahead, the challenge for media companies is how well they tackle the delicate task of balancing press freedom with public demand for greater transparency. - CNA

Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"