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.
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.