SPH chief editor: ‘Digital is up but can’t make up for the drop in print’

Piece on Patrick Daniel's speech to SPH journalist on

Piece on Patrick Daniel’s speech to SPH journalists on

Singapore Press Holdings is planning to integrate its print and digital marketing and sales functions, “rationalise” its digital and print products, and has expanded its content marketing offering as the Straits Times publisher attempts to “slow the slide” of its media business.

Speaking before an internal awards show last week, Patrick Daniel, editor-in-chief of the company’s English/Malay/Tamil Media (EMTM) Group, began his talk, excerpts from which are in the ST’s piece, by highlighting the “third wave of disruption” for newspaper publishers – the rise of tech giants such as Facebook, Apple and Google entering the news business.

After raising questions about a “so-called futurist” who had predicted the extinction of newspapers in Singapore by 2021, he went on to highlight a common reality confronting newspaper publishers he has outlined before: “print is down, digital is up but can’t make up for the drop in print.”

Daniel said that was “reason to be optimistic” as SPH moves into a new phase of a business transformation plan of which sales and marketing will be a focus; the functions, he said: “must become integrated across our various platforms. We are also looking to do this based on stronger audience analytics.”

The key challenge, he pointed out, is: “Can we reverse the slide in our media business? We must try. Even if we don’t achieve a turnaround, we must at least slow the slide. Everything we do must be aligned with this purpose,” he was quoted as saying by the ST.

Newspaper ad revenue

SPH newspaper ad revenue in 2015; source: The company

SPH reported a 6.3 per cent fall in operating revenue from its media division in its FY2015 report, with ad revenue falling (by 7.4 per cent) at a rate quicker than the previous year.

Losses were offset at a group level by a rise in rental income from SPH’s property businesses.

The Straits TimesSPH has just increased the cover prices of all of its newspapers bar The New Paper, with the price of a copy of the ST going up from S$1 to S$1.20. Daniel said he hoped customers “will understand why we had to do it and will continue to support us.”

He pointed out that the news division is “no longer just news on paper,” and highlighted the positive performance of the SPH’s radio, books and data divisions, and noted that an increase in the number of events it puts on was helping the bottom line. (In the same edition of the ST as Daniel’s speech is a new story on the launch of a DBS-sponsored coffee festival hosted by the Straits Times, where the public can quizz ST journalists as part of new reader engagement programme.)

Part of the plan to rebuild SPH’s media revenue base is a content marketing hub for EMTM group, which Daniel explained is an expansion of an existing offering by SPH tabloid The New Paper.

SPH will be “thinking hard” about how to rationalise its print and digital product portfolio, Daniel noted, adding that there was a need to “bring down some of the walls between our newsrooms and help one another more.”

SPH has undergone a number of restructures in recent years. In 2014, 300 jobs were lost in a restructure that reflected the publisher’s bumpy transition into the digital era.

New product innovations are in the pipeline “to reach audiences we are now not reaching,” Daniel said.


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