With Alibaba's Jack Ma at the helm, South China Morning Post removes pay wall

Alibaba Group executive chairman Jack Ma said that finding ways to better adapt to readers' reading habits should be a priority.
Alibaba Group executive chairman Jack Ma said that finding ways to better adapt to readers' reading habits should be a priority.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

South China Morning Post announced on Tuesday (April 5) it is giving free access to its online and mobile editions with immediate effect, as Chinese Internet giant Alibaba takes ownership of the popular Hong Kong English-language newspaper.

The 113-year-old daily said the paywall at www.scmp.com was removed with effect from 6pm on Tuesday. A new SCMP mobile app has also been launched. The newspaper as well as e-paper version will continue to be subscription-based. 

“(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 in an announcement posted on the newspaper's website.

“This is what we need to do as the media industry transforms for the future.”

On Dec 11, the Alibaba Group agreed to pay HK$2.06 billion (S$360.5 million) to acquire the widely read newspaper and all other media assets owned by SCMP Group.

SCMP's website has about 4 million website visitors per month, of whom two-thirds come from outside Hong Kong and the mainland. It also has a print readership of about 100,000. The acquisition expanded Alibaba's multiple media assets to 25.

Mr Ma has said he hopes to improve China's image and provide a different perspective from Western media through the deal.

SCMP editor-in-chief Tammy Tam said on Tuesday the removal of the paywall at the daily's website "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,” she added.

SCMP acknowledged that the move to provide free-to-access content bucks the industry trend, but said Mr Ma was 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,” Mr Ma said. “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.”