In December 2015, Alibaba's Executive Vice Chairman Joseph Tsai informed the world that Alibaba was going to take control of South China Morning Post and drop the website's online paywall.
At the time, media experts and arm-chair Sinologists fretted that the Chinese e-commerce's acquisition of the leading English-language daily newspaper in Hong Kong would end the paper's editorial independence and worsen the quality of the paper. Nobody we read mentioned the end of the paywall stated in Tsai's letter. Instead, everyone opined about the end of the great SCMP. Last night, the paywall came down.
Tammy Tam, Editor-in-Chief of the South China Morning Post, yesterday stated in a company release: "With the paywall removal, it 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."
And the end of the paywall is indeed what SCMP needs to make it a better paper. SCMP has lacked good in-depth business coverage of China, especially in the tech and alternative investment sector, and maybe increasing readership will spark investments in their ability to do a much better job of covering Chinese business sectors.
ChinaTechNews.com is now 16 years old, and SCMP has had its paywall up during most of that time. We have seen editorial coverage wax and wane for good China stories. This is not to diminish the good work of the writing staff at SCMP, but instead points to a lack of strong investment commitment from the previous SCMP owner.
Now that Alibaba owns SCMP, investment in the business will grow, and that's a good thing. Surely there will be an editorial slant, but fortunately those fights can take place in Hong Kong, outside the direct hands of the mainland government.
The China Daily newspaper is also free, but it's clear from its own editorial slant and copywriting that it's a second-rate publication that keen observers of China do not take so seriously. In the same way, if SCMP slips in its commitment to pursue the news for the news' sake, rather than the Party's privilege, then readers too will take their eyeballs to different online locations. Jack Ma's investment will quickly lose value and esteem.