Fast Track Asia is a Chinese-language newspaper’s answer to fast cash. Sing Tao Daily is targeting a specific clientele with their new service. The idea is to create a one stop shop for Asian business news. They’re attempting to attract business executives across North America.
The concept is simple. Business happens in Asia while we sleep in North America. When subscribers wake up, turn on their Blackberry or open their email, they find a new bulletin from Fast Track Asia.
The bulletin includes closing numbers from the stock markets in Asia and the top ten business stories. The summary is emailed to subscribers Monday through Friday in English or Cantonese. The whole package takes about one minute to read.
“The responses have been quite positive,” says Victor Ho, Editor in Chief of Sing Tao Daily’s Vancouver edition and cofounder of Fast Track Asia.
Fast Track Asia was created by the editors at Vancouver’s edition of Sing Tao. Sing Tao is a Cantonese newspaper with editions in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. The publication is intended for Canada’s Chinese immigrant population.
The program began March 1, 2009. According to Ho, it already fires out 10,000 emails every morning.
The financial crisis has affected the news media. CanWest Global Communications, the organization that owns the Vancouver Sun, the Province and the National Post, laid off five per cent of its workforce across Canada. Chinese language newspapers fared somewhat better, but have not escaped profit losses.
“We have to explore every trend, every opportunity to turn into money. Otherwise the situation will get worse and worser,” says Ho.
Sing Tao’s Canadian media group is half owned by TorStar, the company that also owns the Toronto Star. TorStar reported a net loss of $180.5 million in 2008.
According to Ho, Sing Tao’s Vancouver edition has been able to maintain its sales but is still losing money overall.
Despite the emergence of online news, media organizations find it difficult to generate profit from the Internet. The Project for Excellence in Journalism annual report, The State of the News Media, found that media had a hard time making money from online advertising in 2008.
“Even online ads – once the great hope – ended up falling 0.4 per cent and amounted to less than 10 per cent of revenue,” says the report.
Aggregating the news
Liveny Lu, 24, was born in Taiwan and has lived in the U.S. and B.C. since she was in grade school. Lu gets most of her news online but will flip through Sing Tao at work. She reads many English news sites online but for her Asian news, Lu frequents news aggregators like Google and MSN Taiwan.
“Because of the time difference I actually can get their newest and latest news,” says Lu. “When they update it in the middle of the night, I can get it right in the morning. It’s actually quite good.”
The State of the Media report found that news aggregators like Google and MSN are attracting online advertisers because of their growing popularity.
Sing Tao is the leading newspaper read by immigrants and Chinese-speaking Canadians. Sing Tao is a Hong Kong publication that has expanded with editions in the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom.
Its biggest competitor in Canada is Ming Pao Daily, another Cantonese newspaper distributed in Vancouver and Toronto. The economic downturn has forced Ming Pao’s San Francisco operation to shut down and its New York edition is now available only online.
Sing Tao focuses on international news from Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan, as well as news from the Canadian Chinese community.
“You know I’m an immigrant right…so news abroad and from Canada are just as important,” says Marina Shek, the secretary at the Vancouver Senior Chinese Drop-In Centre. Shek reads the centre’s copy of Ming Pao at work.
In 2006 Vancouver’s Chinese population was 381,500 people, or 18.2 per cent of the total population.
“We are serving the immigrant readers. They have a lot of connections with Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China, they even have investments in those regions. So we have to satisfy these immigrant readers,” says Ho.
The financial crisis has grabbed everyone’s attention. People everywhere are watching their money and investments.
Newspapers have always been in the market of selling convenience. Right now, Fast Track Asia is available as a free trial. In June, Sing Tao will begin charging subscribers $6.00 a month.
“Right now, we’re still building our readers’ base,” said Calvin Wong in an email. Wong is General Manager of Western Canada’s Sing Tao Daily. He expects more than 10,000 people will maintain their subscriptions after June.
The face of traditional media has changed significantly with the emergence of the Internet. Readers and editors are adjusting to a new environment online.
The Vancouver Sun’s website updates every few minutes with new stories. Online readers comment on articles, read blogs posts from journalists and communities members and get news “tweeted” to them on their Twitter account.
Chinese language newspapers do not use the Internet the same way. Sing Tao Daily’s Vancouver edition has a website but for features like blog posts and online discussions, Vancouver’s readers must visit the Toronto online edition of the newspaper.
“I think if Chinese patrons are comfortable using computers, feeds, blogs etc. there is a good chance they will also select their news from other online news sources,” says Eva Tai, the Chinese Language Library Technician at the Carnegie Branch of the Vancouver Public library, located on the edge of Chinatown.
Sing Tao knows their readership well. Many readers, especially those who get their news exclusively in Chinese tend to be from an older demographic.
“The older generation from Hong Kong…they are not an Internet friendly or an Internet familiar reader. So they prefer to buy our paper everyday,” says Ho.
Many Sing Tao and Ming Pao readers, of the older demographic, frequent the Chinatown library to read the Chinese language newspapers. Beth Davies, Head Librarian, says there is a social aspect to sitting around reading and trading newspapers.
Some readers are satisfied with the papers doing things the old way. Others, from the younger generation, don’t think it’s enough.
Tai says both the Sing Tao and Ming Pao websites “are very slow and clumsy loaders, replete with a maddening onslaught of spinning ads and popping irritants. Crashes will happen on a regular basis.”
Tai gets her Chinese news in print format.
“It is hard to explain, but those Chinese newspapers in print format still offers patrons and myself a certain intuitive understanding of issues in context. This ineffable ‘context’ is part of the pleasure of newspaper reading,” says Tai.
Inputting Chinese characters with an English keyboard and navigating the Internet are no problem for Tai. Yet, she prefers English sources for her online news.
“The quality of journalism is not comparable to that found in good online English news sites so I’d prefer not having to fight the irritating webpage setups,” says Tai.
Vancouver’s Chinese language media has a long way to go to create a comparable online experience for their readers. Fast Track Asia may be a step towards creating this experience for business executives. They’ve been using the Vancouver Board of Trade and the Hong Kong-Canada Business Association to market the service and build their readership.
Fast Track Asia will begin charging subscribers June 1st.