Shares of Oriental Press Group, which publishes Hong Kong's leading Chinese-language newspaper, slumped 15 per cent yesterday after the company's first-half profit plunged due to competition from free newspapers. Net profit fell 98 per cent to HK$3.82 million for the six months to last month from a year earlier as turnover dropped 11.8 per cent to HK$893.3 million. The shares closed at HK$1.35, a 40-month low and down 52 per cent from the historical high of HK$2.841 on January 14, 2004. The company, whose Oriental Daily News sells more than 400,000 copies a day, publishes the smaller-circulation The Sun, which is struggling to compete against freesheets Metro, Headline Daily and am730, launched in the past two years. Oriental halved The Sun's cover price to HK$3 in October last year to keep readers, then raised it to HK$4 in May. In November last year, it started giving away free vouchers for food and consumer goods. The Sun has also cut staff pay and combined some editorial departments with the Oriental Daily, a source said. 'It is unreasonable for Oriental to keep running The Sun which could continue losing money due to the challenges from free papers,' said an analyst. It was difficult to comment more on Oriental as The Sun's circulation is not independently audited and the firm does not give details about its operations, the analyst said. The price cut and vouchers boosted The Sun's daily circulation to 350,000 from 100,000, Oriental said. Total newspaper advertising revenue in Hong Kong rose to HK$8.3 billion in the six months to June, according to Nielsen Media Research. Oriental proposed no dividend. It paid out 2.5 HK cents a share a year ago.