South China Morning Post (SMCP), the Hong Kong-based media firm, has dropped the paywall on its website after Alibaba completed its acquisition the company. Its physical newspaper and PDF editions will continue to be subscription based.
SCMP previously limited the number of stories that non-paying users could access on its website each month, but now that limit has been removed in a step that “paves the way to grow its readership globally,” according to Editor-in-Chief Tammy Tam. Tam further argued that the world needs “insightful and trusted news” from China, a similar line to what we’ve heard from Alibaba founder Jack Ma.
Alibaba announced plans to buy the 113-year-old newspaper in December. Companies buying media always elicits concern. Alibaba executive chairman Joe Tsai said at the time the e-commerce giant would not get in the way of the paper’s work, but instead use its resources “to take the SCMP to the next level.” That’s going to mean increased monetization efforts on the business side through what Alibaba calls an “e-commerce media ecosystem.”
Beyond than three buzzwords bundled together into a phrase, Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang has argued the case that media represents a potentially lucrative channel for e-commerce services — and those of Alibaba, in particular — while also offering to help media companies make money. Beyond SCMP, Alibaba has invested in microblogging site Weibo and is in the process of completing a $3.5 billion acquisition of video site Youku Tudou to beef up its media portfolio.
In addition the removal of its paywall, SCMP’s mobile apps have also been upgraded with search, deep-linking, personalization and other features. These apps are something to watch since Alibaba says it is now “a mobile first company”, with mobile representing the majority of its business.
Many were skeptical of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ intentions when he acquired the Washington Post, but the paper appears to have been allowed to continue on under his reign. If anything it has seen a new lease of life. Alibaba is comparable to Amazon in many ways, and we can only wait to see if it can be patient and hands-off with its sparkling new media asset.