Private Dailies Still Struggling with Govt Competition, Production Costs

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 6 May 2015

RANGOON — Privately owned newspapers are still struggling with competition from state-run publications and exorbitant production costs, with industry insiders predicting further closures and consolidation in the sector.

By the end of 2013, the year when the government began issuing licenses to private dailies, 26 titles were on the market. Since then, 18 have ceased publishing. With the recent relaunch of the Myanmar Times as a daily publication, there are now nine private newspapers and three state-run dailies in Burma’s metropolitan markets.

Publishers said that production costs, competition with state-run newspapers and lack of advertising revenue remain almost insurmountable barriers to survival.

The Voice daily newspaper Chief Editor Kyaw Min Swe said his newspaper has struggled to remain afloat for the last two years.

“We still lose money every day, even when every single copy sells out, because of the imbalance between sale price and production cost,” he said. “We haven’t got enough advertisements for our paper to keep running.”

“Since before we began publishing, the government has planned to compete with us. The state-run newspapers offer lower ad rates. It is an intentional attempt to kill private newspapers,” he added.

Maximum circulation for private dailies usually runs between 30,000 to 50,000 copies per day, rising to 100,000 copies with big stories. State-run dailies, by contrast, often distribute more than 200,000 copies per day.

Myanmar Journalists Network Secretary Myint Kyaw echoed Kyaw Min Swe’s claims that the government’s leeching of potential advertising revenue was the greatest threat to private newspaper publishers. He told The Irrawaddy that he expects the market to continue its consolidation.

“I expect less than five papers will survive,” he said.

Thaung Su Nyein, the Chief Editor of 7 Days, which has a majority share of the private daily market, said that his company’s newspaper relies on the profits generated by its sister publication, a weekly journal.

“After two years, the circulation numbers have not changed much, but other dailies have received more advertisements,” he said.

He added that while 7 Days was competing with government dailies at present, he believed that his publication would eventually face a stronger threat from rival private publications as the industry evolved.

“We have different contents and news presentation, that’s why I don’t believe they are our main competitors,” he said. “In the future, the newspapers which can stand strongly with better capital and management will remain, and those will be our main competitors.”

Newspaper proprietors are all wary of the threat posed by the country’s rapid increase in internet connectivity and speeds. While the trend towards digital media remains in its infancy in Burma, and publishers are ill equipped to devise revenue streams for their online assets, more young users are using social media as their primary source of news and eschewing print publications entirely.

“Based on surveys here, most young people under 25-years-old don’t read print news at all,” said Kyaw Min Swe. “That will keep readership of print edition limited. We will not be able to rely only on digital news, because advertisers will keep seeking print…but as people’s lifestyles change, we will have to change as well.”

Market surveys estimate that Burma currently has about 4.5 million Facebook users, 7 million Viber users and 10 million mobile phone subscribers. Thaung Su Nyein said that while making money on digital audiences was difficult, he was optimistic about the potential for reaching an audience that was growing rapidly and unconstrained by the limitations of print circulations.

“These are huge numbers,” he said. “If they all became our readers, we would have a massive audience that we would never get with our print version.”

Mizzima ceased the publication of their Burmese language print daily in February, replacing it with a digital edition after the withdrawal of funding from Yoma Chairman Serge Pun and the departure of former shareholder Sonny Swe. Soe Myint, the managing director of Mizzima Media Group, said there was evidence that digital publications were starting to make money in the local market.

“My digital daily newspaper’s advertising situation is good now,” he said. “I can say that it is possible to make money on digital publications here, but we need better strategies for long-term business.”