Hong Kong Economic Journal's price increase is a game-changer

Economic Journal plans to defy an agreement among Chinese-language papers to charge HK$6. Its competitors may soon follow suit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 August, 2012, 3:36am

After freezing prices at HK$6 for more than a decade, the Hong Kong Economic Journal will become the first Chinese-language newspapers to break a long-established pricing agreement by charging HK$8 from Monday.

Chinese-language newspapers have long kept their cover prices the same to avoid a price war, but the introduction of a competition law in June has forced the abandonment of the agreement.

The price rise was announced yesterday, and the daily's management said the increase was needed to "maintain high quality content and service". It is the first price rise since 2000, when the 12 Chinese-language broadsheets increased their prices from HK$5 to HK$6.

More broadsheets are understood to be considering following suit, including Ming Pao Daily News, where bosses are mulling a HK$1 increase.

The Coalition of Hong Kong Newspaper and Magazine Merchants welcomed the rise, which could lead to bigger profits for its members, but academics questioned whether newspapers would undermine their prospects amid competition from free tabloids and online news.

The Journal's editor-in-chief, Chan King-cheung, said of the rise: "We are confident that our quality content will be able to retain our readers. It is necessary to bring up the sale price, as there are increased printing costs and wages."

The Journal focuses on economic news and related issues, with its columnists highly regarded by readers. Observers believe its unique focus will mean sales are unlikely to take a hit.

Ming Pao Daily News chief operating officer Keith Kam Woon-ting said his paper would watch the response to the Journal, and bosses would decide whether to increase its price in two weeks. Ming Pao will not discuss a price rise with other papers due to the competition law.

Cheung Kim-hung, the editor of Apple Daily, has long called for higher prices for newspapers.

Some say a price rise will be tougher for papers aimed at a general audience.

"The Journal's target readers are very different from other popular papers, and there are fewer, similar substitute titles available on the market," said Professor Clement So York-kee, director of the school of journalism at Chinese University.

To Yiu-ming, an associate professor of journalism at Baptist University, said the six free titles in the city made any price rise by other broadsheets risky.

With the relaunch last week of the New Evening Post, the circulation of the six free Chinese-language titles has risen to more than three million - three times the daily sales of the broadsheets, creating cutthroat competition.

"Whether a price rise will drive readers away will depend on whether these broadsheets can develop their own character, and stand out in quality against the free titles," To said.