RANGOON — Six months after private daily newspapers stepped into Burma’s media market, publishers are still struggling turn a profit. While some in the business see a hopeful future, the dominance of state-run media and a lack of advertising interest mean some titles have already dropped out.
Earlier this year, more than 26 private companies got licenses to print daily newspapers, with the first dailies printed in April. Burmese could read independent, uncensored newspapers each morning for the first time in 50 years, marking a major milestone in the country’s ongoing reforms.
The first papers to launch—theVoice, theUnion, theStandardTimes and ShweNaingnganThit—have since been joined by the 7 Day Daily, the Daily Eleven, the Yangon Times, Mizzima, Pyi Myanmar and the Messenger. The English-language Myanma Freedom Daily is also now publishing alongside the 10 Burmese-language titles.
But there have been setbacks. Three titles—The Empire, Myanmar Newsweek and Burma Age—have launched and already stopped publishing in the difficult market.
From their infancy, private dailies faced financial problems. Simply producing and printing the mostly color pages of a daily is losing publishers an estimated $2,000 to $3,000 per day, according people in the industry.
“There were 13 private dailies three months ago, now only 10 are left in the market,” said Saw Lin Aung, a market researcher on Burma’s print media.
He said that advertisers, which will be the key to daily newspapers surviving, have been slow to warm to the daily format.
“There are only two dailies that are getting ads and readers are regularly reading only these two dailies—the Daily Eleven and 7 Day Daily,” Saw Lin Aung said.
“The highest circulation rate is at about 50,000 copies per day, and a second level of dailies is reaching 30,000, the Standard Times for example.”
The researcher noted that while the quality of news coverage was impressive when the first daily’s launched, the demands of the daily news cycle appears to have taken a toll on content.
“Some quality dailies which were very active last April are now going down [in terms of quality],” he said.
Wai Phyo, the editor-in-chief of the Daily Eleven, said the market will see yet more titles fall by the wayside, predicting that all but three or four private titles will likely drop out within a year.
He said people were starting to become familiar with private daily newspapers, but the dailies—the majority of which have sister titles in the journal market—were yet to distinguish themselves from the well-established weeklies, which are attractive to advertisers.
“Actually, the presentation of weeklies and dailies is not yet very different because we have the same sources and networks .Those things haven’t expanded yet,” he said.
Ahr Mahn, the editor of 7 Day Daily, said there were signs the market was improving, with more advertisers coming in.
“This is peak season, and ads are increasing compared to last month. That means, some days a week, we can cover our daily costs, but some days we still can’t match the daily cost,” he said.
Editors declined to give specific circulation figures for their papers. Said Ahr Mahn, “I can say if a daily newspaper reached to 70,000 copies per day, they can survive and they can make profit.”
Ko Ko, the founder and CEO of the Yangon Times, which has both a daily and a weekly, said a major obstacle for private dailies remains their state-owned competitors—whose privileged position and large resources are a frequent point of contention with local publishers.
“Our main competitors are the two government-run newspapers—the Mirror and the New Light of Myanmar—they can sell at a cheap price, just 50 kyat, while we’re selling at 200 kyat per copy,” he said.
The Interim Press Council of Myanmar has called on the government to privatize its official newspapers, which also include the Burmese-language Myanma Ahlin—published by the News and Periodical Enterprise, under the Ministry of Information. The state-owned titles have large newsgathering and distribution networks, with more than 200,000 copies of both Burmese-language titles printed every day.
“For example, while we’re trying hard to make 1 million kyat [about $1,000] from advertisements, they’re receiving more than 10 million kyat [$10,000] every day,” said Ko Ko, who also pointed to the government papers’ privileged access to important information like government announcements and tender notices.
Although state involvement means the daily newspaper market is “stagnant,” Ko Ko said, he was still hopeful dailies would eventually be viable.
“Right now, we can see a distant signal [of hope] for the future,” he said.