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Tue, Nov 02, 2004 - Page 12 News List

`FEER' closure sign of changing market

AFP , HONG KONG

The last edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review is shown on the streets of Hong Kong on Thursday. Analysts say the closure of the magazine is indicative of readers' changing tastes.

PHOTO: AFP

The closure last week of the weekly news magazine Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) was met with criticism among readers and in the press here, but industry insiders say it was symptomatic of shifting trends in the region's media.

Changing reader tastes and an abundance of more immediate alternative news sources not only signalled the death knell for the 58-year-old FEER but, say analysts, may also be the writing on the wall for other regional publications.

News that Dow Jones, publisher of the Asian Wall Street Journal, was axing Hong Kong-based FEER in its weekly format filtered out last week after the company told employees that the magazine's staff of 80 would all be laid off.

It brought to an end a publication that had led debate on Asian issues since it was founded in 1946.

Dow Jones said the magazine had been losing money for six years and would continue as an opinion-led monthly available only to subscribers.

The move prompted accusations of mismanagement and was condemned in Hong Kong as an attack on freedom of speech, an issue of burning importance in a city where Chinese leaders are feared to be cracking down on media critical of Beijing.

But analysts and industry insiders believe the end had been in sight for some time at a magazine some described as the last of a dying breed of English-language publications in a fast-developing Asian media market.

"FEER had problems for many years, its collapse didn't just happen," Huang Yu, journalism professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, said.

"It had reinvented itself several times. They tried to get a new audience from different markets. But there are too many news weeklies competing with each other and I don't think the audience has time to absorb them all," Huang said.

Sharon Desker Shaw, editor of respected Hong Kong industry bible Media magazine, echoed Huang's sentiments, saying readers' tastes had changed since FEER was launched.

"People just don't have time to read a magazine, especially a magazine like FEER because it has extensive news reporting, something that you need time to digest. Its not something that you can just read and throw away."

Bound up with changes in readership tastes have been changes in the way readers obtain their information.

With 24-hour rolling TV news and, more importantly, Internet news services delivering current affairs to consumers' homes as it happens, Shaw said the days when magazines ruled the roost may soon be over.

"With the Internet and all, people now have new ways of accessing information," she said. "Publishers now see that its difficult to compete against the Internet because readers can now get immediate information."

Huang agreed: "Readers have changed and prefer not to read too serious stuff. Thats why magazines like Time and Newsweek increasingly put their focus on softer issues like lifestyle and music to capture the younger generation."

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