HONG KONG – Alibaba has bought Hong Kong’s leading English-language newspaper, South China Morning Post, the latest string of media-related purchases by the e-commerce giant.
The firm confirmed the deal in a press release issued Friday but did not specify an amount.
“The South China Morning Post is unique because it focuses on coverage of China in the English language. This is a proposition that is in high demand by readers around the world who care to understand the world’s second largest economy,” said Joe Tsai, executive vice chairman of Alibaba Group. “Our vision is to expand the SCMP’s readership globally through digital distribution and easier access to content.”
The SCMP is Hong Kong’s paper of record. Founded in 1903, it is one of Asia’s most respected newspapers but has been struggling with profitability as readers migrate online.
“With proven expertise especially in mobile Internet, Alibaba is in an excellent position to leverage technology to create content more efficiently and reach a global audience,” said Robin Hu, chief executive officer of SCMP. We welcome Alibaba’s commitment to invest additional resources in its editorial and business operations to make the SCMP even stronger.”
An article on the SCMP Web site detailing the acquisition said it will do away with the paywall shortly once the deal is finalized so the newspaper can expand readership.
The sale includes the newspaper; magazine business, including local editions of Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, and Esquire, and related businesses such as outdoor media, custom publishing and events.
In an internal email to staff before the deal was revealed, Hu addressed concerns over the future of the group’s editorial independence. Alibaba is SCMP’s first Mainland Chinese owner. Malaysian sugar tycoon Robert Kuok bought a controlling stake in the media company from Rupert Murdoch in 1993.
“The preliminary understanding is that the potential purchaser would like to have continuity in the media business’ operations, and that minimal disruption of the media business is expected,” Hu wrote.
Alibaba already owns Youku Tudou, the Chinese equivalent of YouTube, as well as Sina Weibo, a microblogging Twitter-like service. The move also mirrors Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ decision to acquire the influential yet increasingly less profitable Washington Post.
Last month, SCMP Group dipped its toes into e-commerce, acquiring fashion e-tailer MyDress.com for 49.7 million Hong Kong dollars, or $5.12 million at current exchange.
MyDress.com’s co-founder Edmund Wong said he expected to find cross-over appeal in the content and communities developed by the magazines within the SCMP Group.
The South China Morning Post is a broadsheet and the other assets acquired include the Sunday Morning Post, “its digital platforms SCMP.com and related mobile apps, and the two Chinese websites Nanzao.com and Nanzaozhinan.com.”
In a letter to readers printed in the newspaper today, Alibiba stated, “So, you’re probably wondering why. Why is Alibaba buying into traditional media, considered by some a sunset industry? The simple answer is that we don’t see it that way.”
Alibaba went on to say that the newspaper “has iconic status in the region, with a strong reputation internationally for the quality and credibility of its journalism over the years, thanks to its reporters and editors who have worked hard to build this heritage. Like many print media, however, the SCMP faces challenges amid the dramatic changes in the way news is reported and distributed.”
The company went on to tell readers that “these changes play to Alibaba’s strengths, which is why we believe the two companies complement each other well.”