South China Morning Post seeks obscurity on Internet

An email from the South China Morning Post arrived a few days ago:
A personal message from Publisher Christopher Axberg:

I would personally like to welcome you back to, by inviting you to register for a complimentary 21-day trial.

An subscription ensures you maintain your connection to Hong Kong and Greater China and the events shaping their development.

You will gain access to daily breaking news, special reports, e-newsletters, travel guides and updates on financial markets, lifestyle trends, and sporting events. Plus, you'll get news to go with weekly podcasts, PDA downloads and SMS alerts.

Dear Christopher Axberg, this is a personal message from Jeremy Goldkorn, publisher of Danwei:

First of all, what arrived in my inbox was not a personal message, but a computer generated form that my software marked as spam.

Secondly: Keeping all of your content behind a paywall is a recipe for irrelevance, especially for a newspaper that aspires to regional influence.

It is not possible to link to any story because everything, every single article on the website is behind the paywall. Even the websites of The Economist and the Financial Times offer a generous amount of content for free, while the New York Times offers all new articles except for opinion columns for free for a week. Needless to say those three publications also have well deserved reputations for high standards, which the South China Morning Post has not enjoyed for some years.

The South China Morning Post has a large team of journalists and editors, and deep pockets thanks to many years of profitable operations, and being owned by the hydra-like Kuok Group. It is probably the only currently existing publication that could dominate the Greater China online market.

If the newspaper aspires to winning new readers outside its home territory, the Internet should be a key part of the strategy. But when the casual reader cannot view any of their content without signing up for a paid subcription, and when bloggers who drive traffic to news stories, cannot link to any of the articles, is dooming itself to Internet obscurity. Further evidence that the South China Morning Post just does not get the Internet: the website appears to be updated only once a day, as though it was a print newspaper.

It is increasingly looking like Hong Kong's other English language newspaper The Standard, which is free to read on the Internet, is going to continue gaining on its more established rival.

Not everyone would agree with the views about free content expressed above. Martin Sorrel, the chief executive of WPP -- a man who has certainly made a lot more money from the communications business than anyone at Danwei -- recently "told the Newspaper Society Home Truths conference this week that he has "always had a problem with free content". You can read about his problem here: Stop offering free content, Sorrell warns press execs.

UPDATE: It seems that there is one open access section of their podcasts.

There are currently 22 Comments for South China Morning Post seeks obscurity on Internet.

Comments on South China Morning Post seeks obscurity on Internet

Righteous, Jeremy! (Try if you want to sneak past the paywall from time to time...) How are the new Standards digs? Must come by and see them once I'm back from S'pore. France was nice?

personal rage?

the satire to the

I always liked the not the south china morning post better.

You can always bet that the SCMP will have: The Chinese national flagg as a full half page above the fold picture out on the mainpage on Oct 1st, and May 1st as well as on any other mainland China holiday such as Unicef day and so on. They love to publish pictures of Children under the red banner and the whole paper sucks up to Beijing just by their photo editing it is sad indeed.

The SPH newspapers in Singapore, Straits Times and Business Times, do the same thing. I've given no end of grief to the SPH journalists in Beijing, not that they can do anything about this.

Why is a newspaper's instinct to barricade its content inversely proportional to its quality? Do they think I'm going to order a subscription? From Beijing? When I can read Wapo, NY Times, LA Times and half of the Financial Times for free?

Even more interesting than your rage against SCMP is the fascinating views of Martin Sorrell. His minions certainly know a thing or two about not providing free content. A group of Hill & Knowlton execs invited a senior director at a former employer to breakfast. Lots of nice discussion was had by all. Then three days later a massive bill arrived on the director's desk. To her credit she sent it back, telling them that fare from her paying *their* bill, they should consider themselves fortunate that she wasn't billing them...and...oh....the contracts for global advertising (JWT and O&M) and below-the-line stuff (H&K) were currently being reconsidered.

So, beware the money-grubbing morals of Martin Sorrell.

Quite right. The SCMP has just disappeared off the radar, sliding into oblivion to become an irrelevant provincial city paper. Their penny pinching mentality has effectively trapped the SCMP into a last century model of a newspaper. I hate to say it, but the China Daily has really shown what can be done with a website - even if the content is shite. The SCMP could have become the region's interactive online news and content centre. Instead, they have let websites like icered develop bulletin boards, and the China Daily has become the main source of online news from China. If I was a conspiracy theorist I might even believe that Beijing had deliberately told the Kuoks to keep the SCMP out of those areas.

I agree with Jeremy that their strategy is way out of whack with reality and that bloggers and free sources of information are making them incresingly irrelevant. It really is a shame as they could quite easily position themselves as one of the leading English-language sources of news content about Asia.

Some of my pet peeves:

1. Their search engine is crap and I have to pay to view an archived article, even though I pay them an annual subscription (I also subscribe to the online WSJ and they let you view articles up to a month old for free, plus the search engine is excellent)
2. There is no option to remember your login so I have to login every time (when I complained about this they told me that it was for my protection!)
3. I subscribe to their Technology newsletter but most of the time it never arrives

The SCMP, like many Chinese newspapers, makes a lot of money off property advertising. That, and the their long relationships with advertising clients give them plenty of cash so they don't have to care what readers think of the newspaper. If you don't ive in Hong Kong, and even if you do, why bother reading the rag?

The great tragedy is that here, in the cradle of the global economy and the most interesting part of the planet, there is no effective regional newspaper. SCMP blew the chance by hiding their content. The Singapore newspapers can't have that role because, not only do they hide their content, but they are widely and correctly seen as having Singapore's government agenda front and center. The China Daily is, well, ahem. The International newspapers, AWSJ and FT Asia (my favorite) are struggling and cant command the region the way someone with a newsroom in this part of the world can. Every other English language newspaper in the region is a twelve-page also ran ("Jakarta Post" or "The Nation", anyone?). Even the regional news-sharing agreement, the Asia News Network, is a joke.

Of course, in a region where there isn't exactly a roaring tradition of unfettered press, I guess it's not surprising.

Anybody got the capital to start a new regional newspaper up?

I tried but it doesn't work! Does anyone have any other suggestions of how to get around the wall? is only for bypassing the "free-register-wall", not the "paywall", which is probably impossible to bypass legally.

Despite being free, the Standard appears to only update its content once per day as well. Which is very frustrating - it can't be that hard to alter your publishing systems so that new articles go up on the website as soon as they get editorial approval. A frequently updating news site gets loads of repeat visits during the day.

A good example of a newspaper 'getting' the web is - for a while they persisted in making their readers register to use the site and read more than one article - but since they've relaunched it appears registration is no longer required.

In 2000 I covered the internet scene from Seoul for the South China Morning Post. Even as a freelance journalist writing for the SCMP I could not link to these articles I had written, to do acquisition for more freelance work. They wanted me to buy the links to my own articles.

While my work once appeared in the hallowed features pages of the SCMP (current motto: We Love Pictures of Shoes), I now stand in the company of many a fine freelancer whose work is longer welcome on Auntie Winnie's Fun Pages. The reason given me for my blacklisting after three years of trouble free regular submission was that I was also contributing work - completely different stories, not even cross-pollinating topics - to the Standard. However, I suspect that my real crime was putting my SCMP work into my own online portfolio, in essence stealing my own words back from their online pay-per-view word morgue. So it goes.

Actually, Josh, I've read your work for the Taiwan papers and found it be self-indulgent rubbish (remember that pic of yourself looking "scared" while taking a puddle-jumper flight to one of Taiwan's outerlying islands?). I'm not suggesting this is why you are no longer in the SCMP. I merely suggest that your work is crap.

An anonymous post criticizing my work. What a courageous move, “reader”. But to be frank, the article you’ve referred to was probably one of my lazier efforts. It was also written years ago. But people grow, work, and hone their skills, as I’m sure you know. Take your own craft, “reader.” When you first began plying your trade in truck stop restrooms, you were barely able to accommodate even an average sized john. But through years of diligent practice, you’ve become a master, performing “the airtight,” “the tricky teabag,” and even the highly demanding “filthy Sanchez,” all with great aplomb. And today, men of all shapes and sizes have the number of your bathroom stall etched in memory, and you, my anonymous friend, have every right to consider yourself a success. So give yourself a big pat on the back, dear “reader,” and feel free to leave a name next time. Danwei readers come from all walks of life, and you may drum up some new clients.


Josh, the fact that you aren't capable of understanding why one newspaper would blacklist you for contributing your byline to their one and only in-town rival shows how little you know about this business and unfortunately how correct "reader"'s comments are -- self-indulgent. Or perhaps self-centered is more correct? Show me any newspaper anywhere that rewards their regular contributors with future assigments after their work is published in the pages of their closest crosstown rival.

I prefer self-centered, actually, if you're giving me the choice. Though I'm not sure I'd use the word "rewards" in conjunction with anything having to do with working for the SCMP. Most people I know who've worked there seemed a bit glum and unrewarded, especially recently. Bought some of them ham from Yunnan once, I did. I'm silly that way. Anyway, thanks for taking my inventory, danweifan (did your parents name you that? Good on 'em -excellent foresight. My mom tells me she came close to naming me "Beatlesfan." But I digress...I can do that because I'm self indulgent! Hooray for me!) Anyway, I'll stop now, so we can get this thread back on track. It isn't about me, after all.
But lets be honest now...the SCMP's features section has become a bit overly about shoes, watches, and hair do's and dont's, dontcha think? Like their news section, though, and Peter K's stuff is good. But what do I know? I'm just a terminally adolescent freak doing journalism until I can start earning money through my true calling (motivational speaking for the dead - visit my website for booking details).

We now return you to your regularly scheduled thread, something about how the SCMP isn't as good as it used to be.

I work for the SCMP. It is a tragic farce of an organisation. As a journalist, I find entering the office akin to walking through the gates of hell on a daily basis. But I have a family to support, and there are few opportunities left in this shadow of a once-formidable industry. The PR industry is not an option at this point...but it may soon become one.

Jeremy wrote: ''It is increasingly looking like Hong Kong's other English language newspaper The Standard, which is free to read on the Internet, is going to continue gaining on its more established rival.''
Lord, I wish this was true. But as a current Standard drudge-looking-to-leave I can say that it's simply not in the cards.
Our staff has fled in droves since a February massacre courtesy of the clown who now kneels and licks the Kuok's bumholes with relish (and mustard, too, I imagine). Very, very few have been replaced. The current editor is a Chinese guy with no experience with an English language paper and who seems determined to remake the paper into an English language version of a Chinese stock punter's rag.
Internet? Ha! We're lucky it's updated at all. The lack of vision Jeremy notes regarding the SCMP is even worse here, though we do remain free of charge.
There's dated content, dead links for features that haven't existed in nearly 5 months, and no effort to draw advertisers.
I could go on, but I'm already boring myself. As you were...

I welcome all disgruntled journalists to the PR industry. We're always looking for talented, bilingual people who have a proven ability to withstand long hours and abuse. The difference? You're less likely to be laid off and you'll get a paycheck you can see with the naked eye (possibly - there is some variation here).

Surely your soul isn't too large a price to pay for such bounty?

For a while I watched the SCMP before Perfidious Albion ( my mother country) handed The Crown Colony of Hong Kong over to the Chinese.
I am sure I saw a story about children of Chinese refugees were entrapped into registering and then were 'disappeared'.
I have tried to look at archives but found the same problem - no access.Very disturbing. Any news of the children and their whereabouts?

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