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Chinese Language Newspaper Exits U.S. Market

News Analysis, Jun Wang Posted: Feb 18, 2009

After more than a decade on newsstands, Ming Pao Daily, a Chinese language newspaper based in San Francisco, kissed its readers goodbye on Valentines Day.

The newspaper, whose parent publisher is in Hong Kong, ran a ceasing publication announcement on Saturday, saying it had been forced to withdraw from the market because its operations had been severely affected by the economic recession.

About two weeks earlier, Ming Pao Daily halted publication of its New York City print edition. It still maintains an online presence.

David Lee, a professor of political science at San Francisco State University and an expert on Chinese media, said the closure of the Chinese language daily, which had an estimated circulation of 33,000, was a big blow to Chinese newspaper readers across the United States.

Chinese heavily rely on print media, which is a cultural difference from other ethnic communities, Lee said.

Ling-chi Wang, a professor of Asian American Studies at UC Berkeley, said Ming Pao Dailys demise deprives the Chinese community of an important, nonpartisan newspaper.

Ming Pao has always tried to be fair, objective, and even-handed in its news coverage and editorials, Wang said, on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Wang added that Ming Pao Dailys sister publications, Yazhou-zhoukan and Ming Pao Monthly, always provide penetrating political analysis and cultural criticism. Wang said he did not expect the closure of Ming Pao Daily to affect much on the distribution of the two publications.

Its regrettable, but also understandable, given the current economic crisis and the stiff competition among Chinese-language print media, said Wang. The competition from its two older and more established competitors, the World Journal and the Sing Tao Daily, is probably the major factor behind the decision.

The Oriental Daily News, another Hong Kong-based newspaper echoed Wang. According to the newspaper, the Media Chinese International Ltd., which publishes Ming Pao Daily, has been losing money since last November in both North America and Hong Kong. When Ming Pao New York, which was launched in 1997, announced its closure in the name of content renewal at the end of last month, it was not clear if the newspaper would keep its operation in the west coast.

However, many in the Chinese media industry suspected Ming Pao San Francisco would not stay in business for long because the east coast operation had always done better financially.

Factors other than the economic recession brought Ming Pao Daily down in the United States. When the newspaper entered the already highly competitive Chinese media market in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2004, it set its original retail price at 25 cents per copy, half the price of its two major competitors. As a latecomer, Ming Pao Daily gained fewer advertising clients and did not have a strong relationship with local Chinese community organizations, compared to its two major rivals.

And at the lower end of the Chinese media market, Lee said, there were always free Chinese newspapers, like the Epoch Times, which stole readers from the Ming Pao Daily.

Lee said he also noticed that Ming Pao Daily had a higher employee turnover rate than other major Chinese language newspapers, which put more training cost on a business already losing money.

As a result of the closure, more than 50 employees will be laid off. And unlike its New York sister paper, Ming Pao San Francisco will not keep publishing online. Its unknown if the closure will spread to Ming Paos operations in Toronto and Vancouver, both of which began in 1993, and its Hong Kong headquarters, started in 1959. Ming Paos North American headquarters in Toronto could not be reached for comment, and calls to San Francisco editors were not returned.

Other Chinese language newspapers facing stronger and zero-price competitors are trying to change the way they operate to stay afloat. The China Press, for example, no longer relies only on advertising to bring money in, said Mark Lam, its Los Angeles operation manager. Lam said holding cultural and business events between the United States and China has become another major source of revenue for his newspaper.

Our newspaper decided not to lay people off, Lam said. If needed we may cut work hours in order to survive the hard economic times.

Jun Wang is a writer and Chinese press monitor for New America Media.

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