Alibaba founder Jack Ma 'eyeing stake in SCMP'

Billionaire Jack Ma would follow in the footsteps of Internet tycoons snapping up storied brands in the beleaguered print media industry if he does acquire a stake in SCMP.
Billionaire Jack Ma would follow in the footsteps of Internet tycoons snapping up storied brands in the beleaguered print media industry if he does acquire a stake in SCMP.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BEIJING • Alibaba founder Jack Ma is in talks to buy a stake in the publisher of Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, according to people familiar with the matter, in what could make him the latest Internet-industry tycoon to pursue the revival of a traditional newspaper.

Discussions are at an advanced stage, two of the people said, asking not to be identified because the negotiations are private.

A signing ceremony will be announced soon, one of the people said. Financial details of the deal were not available.

Once the world's most profitable newspaper, SCMP has followed the path of other mastheads with falling earnings and shrinking circulation as readers shift online.

Control of the city's premier English-language broadsheet has been unchanged since Mr Rupert Murdoch sold most of his stake to Malaysian billionaire Robert Kuok in 1993.

The SCMP and Alibaba declined to comment.

When asked whether he was interested in buying the SCMP, Mr Ma said in an interview this month that he was "watching a lot of companies". Attempts to reach Mr Kuok's group that owns the SCMP were unsuccessful.

Alibaba's Mr Ma would be following in the footsteps of Amazon.com Inc's Jeff Bezos - who bought the Washington Post in 2013 - among Internet tycoons snapping up storied brands at a time when print media struggles to compete with Web-based competitors for advertising.

Mr Chris Hughes, one of the co- founders of Facebook Inc, bought a majority stake in the New Republic magazine in 2012.

SCMP Group, which has posted three years of profit declines, has been suspended from trading since February 2013, after the company failed to have at least 25 per cent of shares held by minority investors, the minimum proportion required for a company to trade its shares in Hong Kong.

While the 112-year-old SCMP newspaper is its most visible asset, the group also has operations in businesses ranging from recruitment to magazines and contract printing.

The China Daily reported earlier this month that rumours were circulating that Alibaba was in talks to invest in the SCMP Group.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2015, with the headline 'Alibaba founder 'eyeing stake in SCMP''. Print Edition | Subscribe