Hong Kong Standard claims free strategy brought victory over South China Morning Post
Apr 2, 2008
Six months after the 50 year old Hong Kong Standard moved from a paid to a free circulation model, the newspaper’s executive editor, Steve Shellum, told a conference that the strategy had brought a long awaited victory over the South China Morning Post.
“We had always been number 2 to SCMP in terms of circulation and ad revenue,” Shellum said, speaking to the IFRA Publish Asia conference in Macau today. “Our circulation is now more than double the SCMP and we have attracted a considerable number of new advertisers who pay an increased rate.”
The Standard, which recently adopted the motto “First past the post,” now claims a circulation of 250,000 copies per day, compared with 50,000 before going free.
“The decision to go free was forced on us,” Shellum said. “But it has worked very well indeed.”
Until the end of last year, all listed companies in Hong Kong were required to place official announcements in one Chinese and one English paper. This highly lucrative form of revenue came to a halt when the stock regulator allowed announcements online.
Under the new free model, which started on September 10, 2007, the Standard has not only faced numerous requests for further free distribution sites, but there has also been tremendous pressure from advertisers pushing to get into the paper, Shellum said.
“We would like to balance advertising and editorial at 50/50, but we’re not doing that due to the demand for ads,” Shellum said. “We have been running at lower than 40 percent editorial content.”
The solution has been to tighten stories and run more graphics and photos, Shellum said: “One picture is worth a thousand words.”
When the newspaper queried residential buildings about paper distribution points, the response was overwhelming.
“We had to raise the bar of apartment complexes to the more expensive ones,” Shellum said. “This is a good problem to have.”
Shellum said the majority of the Standard’s readers are Chinese, so the newspaper has introduced features to help readers improve their English.
“We want to produce a paper that people take home to the kids or wife,” Shellum said.
The Standard’s Chinese-language sister publication, Headline News, at 750,000 copies daily, claims the highest circulation of any free paper and is one of the many Hong Kong-based free publications raving about business. (More on that in a later post)
Free daily newspapers have been thriving in Hong Kong’s already crowded newspaper market. In addition to the dozen paid daily newspapers, there are four free daily newspapers serving the city, one in English and three in Chinese.