The New Evening Post debuted to mixed reviews. Photo: Sam Tsang

Seven free tabloids may be one too many for Hong Kong

Pro-Beijing newspaper faces more crowded market than when its predecessor closed in 1997

The city's seventh free newspaper arrived to mixed reviews yesterday as some analysts began to wonder whether Hong Kong had finally reached the limit of its appetite for tabloid freebies.

With the reappearance of the pro-Beijing after a 15-year hiatus, the streets of Hong Kong can expect to be papered with nearly 3.7 million free newspapers - one for every other resident - each weekday.

The , which was shutdown less than a month after Britain returned the city to Chinese rule in 1997, plans to distribute between 200,000 and 400,000 copies daily, Monday to Friday.

All but one of the seven free newspapers - - are in Chinese, although the is the only one that publishes in the evening. Such free papers rely heavily on advertising revenue and are thus more vulnerable to economic swings.

"In face of an [economic] downturn now," said Dr Chong Tai-leung, an economics professor at Chinese University, "[the free newspaper market] is slightly less optimistic."

Dr Clement So, of the university's journalism department, also doubted that the market could handle more players. "It's almost saturated. Unless the is proven to be a great success, it's [unlikely] someone else will join the market."

The previous version of was a paid newspaper and established in 1950 by the fiercely pro-communist newspaper. Now run by All Leaders media company, the paper pledged to be "firmly patriotic and Hong Kong-loving".

"I 'buy' both the pro-establishment and pro-democracy camps," chairwoman Jennifer Ha Ping said. "I report whoever that does good for Hong Kong."

Ha dismissed claims the newspaper was funded by businessman Wong Cho-bau, who recently refused to inject further capital into DBC radio, precipitating its demise.

Ha said the paper aimed to turn a profit within three years. In the debut edition, she wrote a front-page article saying she viewed the media as an extension of "the passion for the motherland that runs in [one's] blood".

Commentators critical of the central government had earlier expressed worries that the paper would be used as a platform to support pro-Beijing candidates.

Reader acceptance varied. Peter Low, 80, a former reader, expressed joy and surprise at seeing the published again.

But Ng Tsz-kwan, 20, said the paper was boring compared to its more flashy competitors.

"It looks rather red to me, as well," Ng said. "I don't think I'll take it anymore."

The front page carried a story about widespread protests on the mainland on Sunday against Japan's occupation of the Diaoyu, or Senkaku, islands, a story which was broadcast 24 hours earlier.

The new paper also did not carry the serialised martial arts novels, like those by Louis Cha Leung-yung, that helped bring the first version to prominence.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Seven free tabloidsmay be one too many