Thu, May 01, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Newspapers make their battle plans

SATURATED MARKET?Chinese-language newspapers have to contend with a new entry from Hong Kong. With readership dropping yearly, will it be worth it?

Joyce Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Jimmy Lai, owner of the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, poses next to dry runs of a soon to be launched Taiwanese newspaper taped to his office wall.

PHOTO: AP

Taiwan's top three Chinese-language newspapers are cutting retail prices or kicking off major promotions today to head off competition from the Apple Daily (蘋果日報), which is set to hit newsstands on Friday.

Apple Daily, founded by Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai (黎智英), hopes to win over 750,000 Taiwanese readers on its first day of publication with sensational gossip stories and flashy color-graphics.

Local papers will not easily give up their market share.

"To increase our competitiveness, we've decided to lower the China Times' (中國時報) retail and subscription price from NT$15 to NT$10 beginning on May 1," chairman of the China Times News Group Albert Yu (余建新) said yesterday in a written statement.

The United Daily News (聯合報), which boasts daily circulation of one million copies, will follow suit and is prepared for an annual loss of "over NT$100 million" at the new price according to a marketing manager, who refused to be identified.

"We're ready to unleash an all-out war [on the Apple Daily] on prices, news content and market share for advertisements," United Daily spokesman George Shuang (項國寧) said yesterday.

Also taking the Apple Daily as a serious threat, the Liberty Times (自由時報), which already retails for NT$10, plans to give away NT$200 million in prizes, including automobiles and household appliances, to attract new subscribers.

"Apple Daily may grab 10 to 15 percent of the 2.5 million daily newspaper market away from the three top papers," said Yu Kuo-chi (俞國基), executive vice president of the Liberty Times.

The Taipei Times is part of the Liberty Times Group.

Yu added that the new paper may be a particularly strong competitor to the Liberty Times, which also claims daily circulation of over one million copies, since both target working-class readers.

Expressing optimism, Yu said the Apple Daily may find it difficult to secure long-term subscribers due to its sensational and lewd content and, therefore, would only pose a threat at the newsstand.

"Apple Daily's market entry may end up increasing the number of newspaper readers in Taiwan by boosting impulse buying rather than stealing away home subscriptions," Yu added.

Preceding the Apply Daily's launch, all three Chinese-language newspapers have undergone facelifts to consolidate their readership by re-designing layouts, adding new story topics and printing full-color editions.

To promote the NT$6 billion media venture, Lai, who's well known for his ruthless marketing strategies, recently spent NT$150 million on the giveaway of 750,000 apples, three-days of free editions and a massive ad campaign.

The ads feature Canadian actress Christy Chung (鍾麗緹) naked behind piles of apples in TV commercials, outdoor billboards and magazines.

"One bite of the apple brings one bite of the truth," the billboard read.

Strikingly similar to its Hong Kong cousin, also called the Apple Daily, the 100-plus-page newspaper will be distributed in greater Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung cities, targeting metropolitan readers. It is not planning to pursue household subscribers in its infancy.

The new paper will retail for NT$5 for the first two weeks of its publication, NT$10 for the next two weeks and ultimately sell for NT$15 per copy next month.

"The middle class, white-collar working class and young readers are our major target groups for readership," Apple Daily's general manger Stephanie Chang (張曉怡) said, adding that the paper plans, in the long term, to settle for 450,000 to 500,000 copies per day.

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