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Paywall down as Alibaba takes ownership of SCMP

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Two decades ago the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s premier English-language newspaper, paved the way for the city’s media companies to embrace the digital revolution with the pioneering launch of its online edition.

Fast forward to today and the Post is blazing a new trail again by giving readers free access to its online and mobile editions, opening up the most comprehensive and credible news site on Greater China to the rest of the world.

Quantum leaps in technology and human interaction through digital media have transformed from a no-frills platform, in the days when internet giants such as Google had not even surfaced, into the subscription-based service that has more than 2.5 million users a month.

At a critical time when media companies in Hong Kong and around the world are either closing down or engaged in severe cost-cutting to survive, the Post is bucking the trend after the acquisition of the 113-year-old newspaper and its media assets by China’s internet giant, Alibaba Group.

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“[With the paywall taken down today] our focus now should not be on finding the right media business model. Our priority should be on how we should change to better adapt to the reading habits of our readers,” Alibaba Group executive chairman Jack Ma said. “This is what we need to do as the media industry transforms for the future.”

“Alibaba Group’s vision of bringing together the SCMP’s heritage and editorial strength together with its technological prowess offers an assuring roadmap for the SCMP’s passage into the digital realm with enhanced clarity and boosted confidence,” South China Morning Post Publishers chief executive officer Robin Hu said.

Editor-in-Chief Tammy Tam added: “With the paywall removal, it paves the way for the SCMP to grow its readership globally. It is our firm belief that as China plays an increasingly critical role in world politics and the economy, a global community of China stakeholders will demand insightful and trusted news and commentaries from a within-the-region perspective.”

The removal of the SCMP’s paywall goes against the global trend of newspapers charging customers for articles they read online, but the new owner is taking the plunge based on his experience in running Taobao, the world’s biggest e-commerce business.

“Many people think being free is how the internet should work, but this is not always a simple solution,” Ma explained. “Taobao was free for merchants in the beginning, but that is not how Taobao wins the market.

“Our winning edge is to provide better services. Free services do not mean cheap services. Rather, offering free but quality services is how we can succeed and sustain our growth.”

Ma expressed confidence that with an open-minded and change-embracing approach, the SCMP would find its own business model and become profitable.

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