Media

Alibaba Takes a Page from Bezos Playbook, Buys Newspaper

China-based e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (NYSE: BABA) announced Friday morning that the company has signed a definitive agreement to acquire the South China Morning Post (SCMP), an English-language newspaper based in Hong Kong. The acquisition includes other media assets of SCMP Group, the Hang Seng-listed owner of the newspaper. No financial details were provided.

In a letter to the newspaper’s readers, Alibaba’s executive vice-chairman Joseph Tsai wrote:

Why is Alibaba buying into traditional media, considered by some a sunset industry? The simple answer is that we don’t see it that way.

The SCMP has iconic status in the region, with a strong reputation internationally for the quality and credibility of its journalism over the years, thanks to its reporters and editors who have worked hard to build this heritage. Like many print media, however, the SCMP faces challenges amid the dramatic changes in the way news is reported and distributed. But these changes play to Alibaba’s strengths, which is why we believe the two companies complement each other well.

The SCMP was founded in 1903 and has remained profitable throughout the turmoil in the newspaper industry that followed the development of the World Wide Web.


Alibaba also said that the paywall to scmp.com will be removed “with enough preparation time after we take over operations.” The company also said that it plans to invest more in the SCMP “to strengthen the foundation of editorial excellence.”

Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) founder and CEO Jeff Bezos paid $250 million in 2013 to acquire the Washington Post, but that acquisition was a personal investment. Another big difference is that the SCMP still makes a profit, something that has eluded the Post.

Alibaba already owns a movie production company, Alibaba Pictures Group (APG), and last month acquired for $4 billion the 72% of China’s version of YouTube, Youku Tudou, it didn’t already own. In early September, Alibaba rolled out a beta-version of a subscription video service it calls TBO, for Tmall Box Office. The service is part of Alibaba’s smart TV operating system.

Alibaba’s shares traded down about 4% early Friday to $80.97. The stock’s 52-week range is $57.20 to $111.20.