Did Next Media get it wrong when it decided to close Sudden Weekly?
People are asking barely a day after Hong Kong’s best-selling entertainment magazine ceased publication, forfeiting a virtual market monopoly.
We can’t argue with the reason behind the decision.
When Next Media cited “keen competition and lack of digitization initiatives”, it was one way of saying it was prepared to kill the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg.
Perhaps what readers will mostly remember about Sudden Weekly is that its final issue was chock full of advertisements — 200 pages of them — and that it came with the usual fare of tantalizing gossip.
I don’t pretend to know what went on behind the scenes.
I can only state my theory in these questions: Was Sudden Weekly sucking the air out of Next Magazine? Was the shutdown a sacrifice move?
Next Magazine and Apple Daily are the flagships of the Next Media empire founded by Jimmy Lai in the 1990s.
Both are grappling with circulation and revenue issues as a growing number of Hong Kong readers switch to the internet for free content.
That said, Sudden Weekly had a lock on the market because of its unique content which happened to be what the market wanted.
Which is why New Media’s Oriental Sunday and Sing Tao’s East Week wasted no time moving into the void.
Oriental Sunday will now be out on Thursday, filling Sudden Weekly’s usual weekday slot, with its usual package on fashion, parenting and dining. Estimates put its potential net increase in circulation at 10,000 copies.
East Week is offering a free trial to Sudden readers, hoping to convert them permanently.
Meanwhile, two free newspapers are said to have recruited former Sudden Weekly staffers as part of plans to expand their entertainment and celebrity sections.
That’s some evidence print editions of local entertainment and celebrity gossip publications are holding their own against digital content.
It’s all market-driven.
We shall see what happens when two major online media companies hit the market this year.
One of them, Initium Media, debuted this month, pitching itself to the Chinese diaspora. WeMedia01 (HK) Ltd. is in the works but very little is known about it.
Initium is betting that Hong Kong readers will switch to its world-flavored content, this being an international city.
But with its focus on Chinese expats, skeptics are not convinced it can win enough local advertisers.
Hong Kong readers are slow to respond to Initium because its content is not attractive enough.
It’s mainly more of what’s already on offer in other media and the topics are too distant and too serious for their taste.
That is why Sudden Weekly will be missed, with its mix of exclusive, eye-catching and fast-paced content laced with celebrity goings on, real or imagined.
After all, it was a product of the same thinking that gave birth to Apple Daily and brought tabloid journalism to Hong Kong 20 years ago.
This so-called “market-driven journalism”, although derided by scholars as a slippery slope toward trashy content, was reponsible for Apple Daily’s early success.
It’s said that Apple Daily’s news selection is based on reader preference, not on importance, but to be fair, the newspaper has also brought political scandals and business shenanigans to light.
Hong Kong is an open market for the media industry and players are limited only by their imagination or lack of it.
Whether the internet will completely wipe out traditional media is something for the future.
But right now, it should inspire, not impede, competition.
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