Flamboyant media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying has taken his first significant step towards building a publishing empire in Taiwan. The Next Media chairman confirmed he was hiring 150 staff from a Taiwanese online newspaper, which closed yesterday, to work for a Taipei version of Hong Kong's successful Next Magazine. Mr Lai, who regards the Hong Kong media industry as saturated, announced last year that he was leaving Hong Kong to start a business in Taipei. He wants to sell his stake in Next Magazine and Apple Daily to the listed company, also controlled by him through a majority shareholding. Last year, he announced he was closing his e-tail venture, adMart, resulting in the loss of 344 jobs. Mr Lai's online business incurred a loss of more than HK$73 million in the first half to September 30, forcing it to shut nearly half its Web sites last November. But analysts believe Mr Lai will have a tough time replicating his Hong Kong success in Taiwan, where competition is also intense. Mr Lai will take employees from Taiwan's Tomorrow Times. The online newspaper has been in trouble since its launch last February with a loss of about NT$20 million (about HK$4.8 million) a month, according to Reuters. There had been speculation Mr Lai was to buy the newspaper. But he said he was interested in more traditional media, rather than online businesses. 'What we are going to take on is the workforce but not the Web sites,' Mr Lai said, rejecting the speculation that he planned to take over the online operation. There has been speculation that Next Media, the Hong Kong-listed arm of Mr Lai's media empire, would form a joint venture with Taiwan's PC Home, giving him a bridgehead in the market. PC Home controls Tomorrow Times. Mr Lai said the staff, including reporters and editors, and accounting for about half of the 280 Tomorrow Times employees, would be redeployed to work for his proposed Taiwanese-version Next Magazine. 'We plan to invest NT$500 million in the new magazine. 'Its launch is scheduled for May or June and our target circulation is 200,000,' he said. Next Magazine, which has a circulation of about 160,000, is controlled by Mr Lai. Pending approval from the stock exchange, it is to be injected into the listed arm. Analysts expected the introduction of the Taiwan edition of Next to herald further launches of magazines and newspapers similar to Mr Lai's Hong Kong businesses. Mr Lai's media empire controls one newspaper and four magazines in Hong Kong: Apple Daily, Easy Finder, Next Magazine, Sudden Weekly and Eat, Travel & PC Weekly. Investment bank UBS Warburg estimated four of the publications would have a combined profit of HK$310 million this year. Many analysts, however, think it will not be easy for Mr Lai to copy his Hong Kong success in Taiwan. 'The publishing market in Taiwan is highly fragmented and the competition there is far more severe than in Hong Kong,' said Tommy Ho Kin-tak, an analyst at Vickers Ballas. Taiwan's magazine industry has seen dramatic growth in the past decade. According to the country's government information office, the number of magazines increased to more than 6,600 from about 3,400 in 1988, for a population of about 22 million. Hong Kong had about 450 Chinese-language magazines serving a population of seven million, Mr Ho said.