Print appeal, the ignorance of readers... and the China web

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If you're in doubt about the enduring appeal of print, note the rush which greeted Rasmus Nielsen's limited offer of hardcopy copies of the Reuters Digital News Report he'd brought to Digital Media Asia's Hong Kong venue from the UK.

And the disappointment that there weren't any of the China Internet Report introduced by Ravi Hirvand and Kong Hu Chua of the South China Morning Post, which you can download here.

Much of the message from Nielsen - who is director of the Reuters Institute for the study of journalism at Oxford University - may already be familiar: That Facebook and Twitter are stagnating; that the discussion of news has moved to messaging apps; and that people disagree about what constitutes 'fake news'. Most think it's simply poor journalism or "hyper-partisan content" with truly fabricated content coming in a poor third perhaps, Nielsen speculates, because readers don't know it when they see it.

Some thing else of which readers don't seem to be aware is the financial difficulty being experienced by news publishers: "They see a ton of advertising and think you're making out like bandits," he told delegates.

Also in the realms of ignorance is western knowledge of the 'China internet', a "parallel universe" of apps a lot of which are very big - WeChat has a billion monthly users - in a region where Facebook doesn't work and there's none of the things (like Uber) that we taken for granted, many having been blocked or banned as a result of the government's "visible hand". Even Peppa Pig has been the subject of some paranoia, and online gaming limited as it "makes young people weak".

What there is, is 772 million internet users - a figure limited by current penetration of only 55 per cent - and its empowerment of the rural population. And a market in which despite widespread piracy, young people are "very comfortable" paying for content.

Media companies should "be inside WeChat", and understand the importance of mini-apps - needed because of the limited space on some smartphones - and the opportunity for short video: "China is showing how it's done," says Kong. Even live-streaming has "buy" opportunities.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: Kong Hu Chua (top left) and Ravi Hirvand; and (above) Reuters Institute director Rasmus Nielsen

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