Sharp Daily in Taiwan launched in double-quick time

Vivian Tam

[Nov 2011 - The Journalist] An interview with Daisy Li. Former News Director of Sharp Daily, Taiwan .

Q: How did Sharp Daily come to life in Taiwan?

A: Jimmy Lai Chi Ying did not support the idea of having a free daily in Hong Kong years ago. “People will not cherish it if it is free. They will only cherish something that they have to pay for,” Mr Lai once said. What he meant was it was better to focus on producing quality paid paper than producing free daily with no gimmicks. But he did not have any strong opinion about Taiwan.

In 2006, there was a bid for a free daily franchise in Taiwan, and the advertisement department of Apple Daily Taiwan thought it might be a new platform for advertising. So Ip Yut Kin, Chief Executive Officer-in print Media of Next Media Ltd proposed to Mr Jimmy Lai and a decision was made. That was how we decided on the Sharp Daily in Taiwan. (Note: UPaper owned by United Daily News won the franchise and Sharp Daily Taiwan was distributed outside Metro Taipei Stations)

Q: It took only one month to launch Sharp Daily. (mid-September 2006 – Oct 23 2006) How could it be achieved in such a short time?

A: The working culture of our company is to push the product to the market first and let the market test the product. Once we decided to launch Sharp Daily, I quickly turned a research department at Apple Daily Taiwan, which was originally set up to assist our colleagues to conduct investigative reporting, into a team of writers for Sharp Daily Taiwan. About four to five editors from Apple Daily Taiwan were also deployed toSharp Daily plus seven others from the art and design department. Reporters of the feature section also contribute stories to Sharp Daily. We basically did not hire extra hands to run the new daily.

Q: The contents of Sharp Daily basically is taken from Apple Daily Taiwan. Why doesn't the freebie do its own reporting?

A: This is a very “natural” practice. It is the best way to keep down the operations costs and maximize profits.

Q: How does Sharp Daily select materials from Apple Daily?

A: Most Metro Taipei passengers are working people and students. Content relating to daily life is the most attractive. Price war between restaurants offering cheap breakfast in Taipei, for example, is the kind of story that appeals to them. Breaking news about an accident in a village, to the contrary, is not their cup of tea.

Q: What is the layout and design strategy?

A: The average traveling time of a metro journey is around 20 minutes. We don’t expect our readers to keep our paper, so the reading time must be short. Based on these considerations, the front page story should not have more than 400 words and we have a 200 word limit for stories in the inside pages. We stress visual effect, for example, by using photos and designed pictures in series and we use more picture stories to report breaking news. The font size is bigger and spacing is wider to make reading in a train more pleasurable.

Q: Does Sharp Daily impact on Apple Daily's circulation in Taiwan?

A: We have not seen any significant drop in the circulation of Apple Daily in Taiwan since the introduction of Sharp Daily. I believe the free daily has reached out to people who previously did not buy any newspaper at all, like secondary school students. The parents of these students are Apple Daily readers so the circulation has remained steady.

Q: Is there any division of labour between Sharp Daily and Apple Daily in Taiwan?

A: Apple Daily must share their exclusive stories with Sharp Daily so the front pages of the two papers might be the same sometimes. But when reviewing performance on how the two papers handle the same story, Sharp Daily might have a better headline at times and that would put pressure on Apple Daily to do better. I think the number of newspapers readers will surely go down in the future. We have to woo our readers with good quality stories. Free dailies should not be blamed for the decline in the circulation of paid newspapers.

Q: Sharp Daily in Hong Kong has launched an audio version, will you follow suit in Taiwan?

A: Our selling point is introducing a Mandarin version and a Taiwanese version. Adopting multi-media in our production is our future development direction and it will be very cost effective.

Q: How do you decide on the number pages each day?

A: It really depends on how many ads we have for each page. Our principle is to strike a good balance between the amount of ads and new stories.

(Note: On a Friday in early September, Sharp Daily Taiwan had 60 pages, half of them filled by ads.)

Q: What are the challenges confronting Sharp Daily in Hong Kong and Taiwan?

A: It’s a tough battle in Hong Kong! When Sharp Daily was launched in Taiwan there was only one free daily on the market. But there are already five in Hong Kong, when Sharp Daily arrived in the Hong Kong. Some property developers in Hong Kong have banned distribution of free dailies in residential areas. We don’t have this problem in Taiwan. The cost of paper, printing, distribution and human resources in Hong Kong is higher than in Taiwan.

Q: Free dailies usually need less human resources in the editorial department, is there any future for journalists?

A: Multimedia is the future for journalism. There will be no pure news writers or news photographers. Journalists need to learn how to use tools to cover and present stories. If a journalist knows how to present a story by adopting multimedia approach, he or she for sure will not be jobless.

Li Yuet-wah, the former News Director of Sharp Daily Taiwan is now the Online News Director of Apple Daily Taiwan

(Translated by Senga Lam)

Comparison between Sharp Daily in Hong Kong and Taiwan  
 TaiwanHong Kong
Sharp Daily distribution180,000900,000 ~ 1,000,000
Apple Daily circulation480,000 (No1 circulation in Taipei )260,000 (Top 2 in Hong Kong )
Free Daily
    Sharp Daily Taiwan (the reading rate of university students is 60 % ) United Daily News UPaper (Daily distribution of 80,000, 40 % of the readers are university students)
    Headline Daily (800,000 daily distribution) (360,000) Metro News (300,000) Skypost (500,000) The Standard (220,000)
*Ming Chuan University 2010 survey, respondents are journalism major students