Asahi to Drop English Daily
Image Credit: PRiMENON / Wikimedia Commons

Asahi to Drop English Daily


With newspapers across the world cutting staff and slimming down to stay afloat as readers ditch print subscriptions to get their news online, it came as no surprise yesterday to learn of the impending death of the Asahi Shimbun’s printed English-language daily.

A member of Asahi's staff confirmed this morning to me off-the-record that the printed version would be discontinued on February 28, 2011. She gave two reasons, in her opinion, of the possible coming change: ‘We have been long running at a loss…and as we don’t want to restrict readership to residents of Japan, we are making a version available for electronic reading devices world-wide.’

A version for the iPad was released in November, with an iPhone application planned for release later this month, according to the staff member. The iPad app has reportedly had some teething troubles, and complaints that it’s overpriced at $9.99 for a 30-day subscription. There is also a Kindle version that was released earlier this year. 

The employee did not, however, say anything about what would happen to the Asahi’s (dated) English website.

Also, currently, the Asahi’s English version (mainly translations of articles from its parent paper) is printed in the back few pages of the International Herald Tribune, which will continue to be printed for the Japanese market on the Asahi’s presses.

The Asahi’s first English language newspaper was The Asahi Evening News, which began life in January 1954. In April 2001, it was relaunched as the International Herald Tribune/The Asahi Shimbun.

Whether this is a good move for the Asahi remains to be seen, but it seems to be a sensible means of getting its ‘liberal’ voice across in English while saving on expensive printing costs.

So what does the future hold for the two printed English-language dailies that would be left in Japan—The Daily Yomiuri (published by the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun) and the Japan Times (the only English-language paper not affiliated with a Japanese-language media group)? The Mainichi Shimbun’s English version went exclusively online in 2001.

Both papers are reportedly haemorrhaging cash and losing readers, and have laid off nonregular staff in recent years. Yet both are backed by major organisations. The Daily Yomiuri, while to a certain (read tiny) degree independent, is supported by its overbearing parent and the world’s highest circulation daily. The Japan Times, meanwhile, is owned by Nifco, a billion-dollar plastic parts and components manufacturer. It'll be interesting to see how long these parent companies will continue to support their loss-making underlings.

Unsurprisingly, the Japan Times was unable to comment on its future, and sources at the Daily Yomiuri say there are no plans in place to stop printing (perhaps because of its miserable website).

But given their precarious positions, it would not come as a shock if, five years from now, the only English-language Japanese dailies read on Tokyo’s commuter trains will be constituted of electronic ink.


Editor’s Note:

This post has been revised to reflect the following corrections:

-The post originally published December 7, 2010 incorrectly used the term ‘spokesman’ when referring to its primary source, who was not an official spokesperson for the Asahi, but a member of staff at the organization's International Division.

-The Kindle version of the Asahi’s English-language daily was released in February of this year and not in November, as was incorrectly stated in the original post.

Mark Austin
December 7, 2010 at 18:49

The AEN was the first Japanese paper I wrote for. It’s surprising it limped on as long as it did in its IHT/Asahi Shimbun incarnation. What was striking about it was how poorly the content of the thin, translated section at the back compared with the IHT section.

Striking but hardly surprising: The Asahi, despite its center-left stance, treated the employees working on the translated section with contempt, busting the union formed by employees of that section who’d jumped ship from The Daily Yomiuri during the tenure of one of the less-friendly DY editors.

A comment attributed by one of the union executives to one of the Asahi’s labor relations people charged with negotiating with the union was, if accurately reported (I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the report), an honest admission of hypocrisy: “What we say in our editorials [regarding how Japanese companies treat their workers] and how we handle labor-management issues are two different things.”

In an interesting contrast, The Yomiuri Shimbun, a right-leaning paper, handled negotiations with the Daily Yomiuri Workers Union in a largely honorable manner. It’s inaccurate to say that the Yomiuri “laid off” workers at the DY: A generous buyout scheme was offered in January, and 10 people availed themselves of it.

The Asahi’s decision will not have gone unnoticed on the seventh and eighth floor of the Yomiuri’s main office. I hope the powers-that-be there continue to act honorably in respect of their dealings with the DYWU, notwithstanding the development at the Asahi. Doing so will show that Yomiuri, not Asahi, is the more sincere actor on Japan’s media stage.

B lander
December 7, 2010 at 15:21

Very well put Sharpy
The painful truth, such is life of late. I’m sorry to say that a permanent switch to the domination of digital devices seems imminent. Having written this from my iPhone i cant talk, however I do still like a good read of the paper now and again.
I rather like the noise a ruffling newspaper reader makes, it has a ring of intelligence about it. iPads and computers are just so unsocial and drab, you can’t leave them on a train and forget about them or rustle one into your bag nonchalantly like you would a paper either!

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