Another free newspaper hits a crowded market
The city's newest free newspaper was offered to readers yesterday, taking the number of free titles to six in a cut-throat and saturated market.
Sharp Daily is published by Next Media, the same company that produces Apple Daily, which sells just over 290,000 copies at HK$6 each.
Sharp Daily claims to have a circulation of 800,000. Together with the launch of Sky Post in August, the two have increased the circulation of the city's free newspapers from 1,600,000 copies a day to almost three million. Observers warn that this could put a strain on the printing capacity of newspapers and increase already fierce competition for readership and advertisers.
'The challenge will be how newspapers can stabilise advertisers and retain readership,' said Clement So York-kee, a professor at Chinese University's School of Journalism and Communications.
'People won't take all six free papers on a daily basis - they will choose. [This] will threaten paid newspapers targeting the mass audience,' So said.
Paid newspapers Oriental Daily News and The Sun lowered their prices to HK$5 and HK$4, respectively, from yesterday, which So said was an attempt to retain readership.
Readers appeared in two minds about the new free newspapers.
'I normally don't grab these free ones - I read [newspapers] online - but today's the first ever Sharp Daily issue, so I took one,' said an HSBC employee.
A fellow bank worker who bought newspapers said the new free title would not stop her from continuing the habit. She said she would still pay for a newspaper, as 'free papers have brief and limited content'.
A vendor who sells newspapers from an 80-year-old stall in Des Voeux Road in Central said people would still pay for quality.
'Those who still buy papers today are looking for quality content. Free papers cater to a different market.'
Other vendors said that it was too early to tell what changes the new free papers would bring to the industry. Many said the sales of paid-for newspapers were steady yesterday despite the launch of Sharp Daily.
Lo Wing-hung, chief executive of Singtao News Corporation - which owns Headline News, the city's biggest free newspaper, with a circulation of 800,918 according to the Hong Kong Audit Bureau of Circulation - said limited printing resources would be an issue for some newspapers.
Another free paper, AM730, relies on Next Media to print its copies and founder Shih Wing-ching lamented that the arrival of Sharp Daily could limit its ability to increase its profitability.
He said that, because of the extra 800,000 copies of Sharp Daily that Apple Daily's printing presses need to produce, AM730 had been told it would be limited to its contractual maximum of producing 400,000 copies at 64 pages each.
Shih said the survival factor would be the newspaper's quality - its news content and its writing.
Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, owner of Next Media, said: 'Traditional [paid] papers won't really be affected by Sharp Daily. It's not the first free paper to be launched on the market.'
A spokesman for the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority said yesterday it had received 13 complaints against Sharp Daily, which was accused of containing indecent content.