The newspaper industry is facing a cold winter. Worried about losing their livelihoods, the staff of the China Times Express came out in protest when the management announced at the end of October that they were stopping publication. (Chuang Kung-ju)
After 17 years on Taiwan's news-stands, the China Times Express bade farewell to its readers in a banner headline in November 2005. The United Evening News is now the sole evening newspaper left on the Taiwanese market.
The demise of the China Times Express is not an isolated case. For the past year, Taiwan's print media landscape has been in a slump. Classic Communications, published by the bilingual weekly Time Express, has changed hands several times, The Earth Magazine has stopped publication, the Taiwan Daily News is in financial trouble, and even TechVantage Magazine will be downsized and merged at the end of the year. It looks like a cold winter ahead for Taiwan's print media.
When press censorship ended in Taiwan in 1988, the China Times Group seized the opportunity to found China Times Express. The Taiwanese evening newspaper market then entered a period of a tripartite balance of power between the China Times Express, the United Evening News, and the Independence Evening Post. Later, Power News, owned by the Hsiang Shan Group, also entered the fray. During its heyday, the evening newspaper market benefited from the fact that because of interest in stock market closing prices and news channel limitations, evening television news and the next morning's newspapers drew much of what they reported from what was printed in the evening papers.
But with the legalization of cable TV in 1993, news channels proliferated. After broadband access became widely available in 2000, the news cycle accelerated and the online editions of two major newspapers offered as much news content as their paper editions. With the extension of stock trading hours, evening editions had to be printed later and later. As readers bought fewer evening papers, the boom was transformed into a slump. In 2001, after 50 years in print, the Independence Evening Post, which played a pioneering role in Taiwan's transition to democracy, was the first to stop publication. Power News retreated from the battlefield the following year.
The evening newspaper market, which once boasted a daily print run of a million copies, has steadily declined to less than 300,000. In light of the changing market environment, the China Times Express and the United Evening News considered a merger, but integrating the two papers proved too complex and the anticipated announcement never came. Now that the China Times Express has withdrawn, the United Evening News is fighting on alone. Squeezed between cable TV and the Internet, the golden age of evening newspapers is evidently over.
It is not just the evening newspaper market that is depressed. Other print media are also experiencing difficulties in Taiwan this year. Classic Communications, publisher of the Chinese edition of Time magazine, faced a financial crisis in June and was forced to sell off many of its publications. In early July, The Earth Magazine, which won a 2005 Golden Tripod award for best magazine, announced it was ceasing publication. For 17 years, The Earth, the first magazine devoted to nature and geography to have been published entirely by Taiwanese people, won countless awards and high public praise. But sales lagged for years, and in the end the publishers were reluctantly forced to throw in the towel.
In fact, under assault from the Internet and cable TV, as well as rising paper and printing costs, print media around the world have faced severe challenges in recent years. Just about every American newspaper has seen its circulation drop dramatically this year, leading to staff reductions at the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. In recent years, every newspaper in Taiwan has also had to contend with a rising dark horse: the highly graphic Apple Daily. Seeing their traditional readers drift away, newspapers have begun cutting back on circulation or reducing staff to cut costs.
To meet the challenge posed by the Internet, the World Association of Newspapers met in Madrid last month. Representatives from around the world agreed that if the traditional newspaper industry is to turn the crisis triggered by the Internet into an opportunity for market leadership, it will have to embrace digital technology, expand web-based services, and develop new online profit models.
Over the last few years, Taiwan's print newspapers have begun developing web services, but so far, other than offering access to their news databases on a pay-per-view basis, they get most of their revenue from online advertising. Looking into the future, there is considerable room for growth. While the China Times Group has decided to drop its loss-making evening paper, it has acquired a majority stake in CtiTV, a Taiwan cable TV operator, and has also expressed an interest in acquiring China Television Company (CTV), which would make the group Taiwan's biggest multimedia empire.
Whether Taiwan's newspaper industry survives this cold spell will depend on its ability to integrate traditional print resources and digital sales channels, cooperate effectively with multimedia investors, and safeguard the interests of the workforce during the transition period.