Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has confirmed its acquisition of the Hong Kong-based English-language newspaper the South China Morning Post, for £175 million.
The deal includes licences for other SCMP group media including Hong Kong publications of Elle, Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar. Critics have argued that the acquisition will allow China a tighter hold over Hong Kong, and compromise editorial independence.
Alibaba has denied that the take over will jeopardise editorial independence, instead arguing that it wants to ensure a ‘plurality of views’, particularly when talking about China – ‘China’s rise as an economic power and its importance to world stability is too important for there to be a singular thesis,’ commented Alibaba’s executive vice chairman Joseph C. Tsai.
Previously owned by Malaysian Chinese tycoon Robert Kuok, The South China Morning Post this week featured an interview with Tsai who said the Chinese firm was looking forward to introducing its ‘technological expertise’ and ‘digital assets’ to distribute news ‘in a way that has never been done before.’
In a letter to SCMP readers, Tsai also noted: ‘We see a compelling business case for the acquisition because we believe that Alibaba is best positioned to take the SCMP to the next level. The foundation for this work must be the quality of the content. And what underpins this will be editorial excellence: a clear pre-requisite to maintaining readers’ trust and, ultimately, achieving commercial success. Be assured, we get that.’
Alibaba has added that it will pull the paywall on SCMP.com, as well as introducing additional digital resources to the paper’s online platform.
The last tech firm buyout of a legacy publication at this scale was two years ago, when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos acquired The Washington Post for $250 million. In September, the U.S. e-retailer announced that members of its Prime service are now able to enjoy six months of free unlimited access to the paper’s digital edition – a subscription which would otherwise cost $9.99 per month. After the six-month period, Prime readers can continue their subscription at a discounted monthly rate of $3.99.