POSTSCRIPT / October 2, 1997 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Most Manila newspapers are still hemorrhaging, but…

THIS isn’t an advertisement. I just want to pass along the information that the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the circulation leader among Philippine broadsheets, now has an Internet edition, which can be accessed at www.inquirer.net.

 There are many local newspapers, some of them provincial, whose online editions can be read at www.yehey.com.ph – the Philippines’ answer to Yahoo – or directly at their own website.

But among the national broadsheets, this observer gives the Inquirer Interactive the highest mark for content and appearance. Among its features are chat, discussion, feedback, newsboy service, comics & crossword, and archives (past seven issues).

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WHILE the Inquirer’s 240,000 daily circulation is the biggest among the broadsheets, the tabloids still lord it over the field. Some of the sleazy tabloids purveying porn hit 300,000 daily.

There are at least 35 tabloids on the sidewalk, but more new titles are rushing in where angels fear to tread. Many of the newcomers are heavy on sex, a tested selling point, and politics, a harbinger of the coming election season.

Business blocs and political operators have pooled funds and agenda to put up newspapers in time for the coming elections. Even illicit drug and gambling money is coming to play.

The proliferation of publishers is best understood if one considers that newspapers are business tools and political weapons.

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THE top three Manila broadsheets in point of circulation are Inquirer, Manila Bulletin and Philippine Star, in that descending order.

The Bulletin used to be the leader, but dropped to No. 2 after problems having to do with credibility, quality and production dragged it down. Star is a poor third to the two leaders.

But on Sundays, when its classified ads section is almost as thick as a telephone directory, the Bulletin recovers and rivals the Inquirer for a day. Survey data show that some 40 percent of those who buy the Bulletin on Sunday choose it because of its classified ads.

The late Chino Roces, the dean of Filipino publishers, used to say that whoever controls the classifieds would control the market. Although weighed down, the Bulletin is still capable of bouncing back.

* * *

BUT the late Gen. Hans Menzi, publisher of the Bulletin in its heyday, had his own interesting quote: “We’re not selling a newspaper…We’re selling a habit.”

It’s probably true. Many street buyers of the Bulletin, aside from the subscribers whose copies are home delivered, pick up copies without perusing the paper. They just pay for it, tuck it under their arm and walk home or ride to the office with it.

Most newspapers actually shun subscription, because processing subscription and ensuring prompt delivery is a very complicated and costly operation. What most newspapers do is refer subscriptions to the agents or dealers who then send carriers or newsboys to deliver the copies.

Newspapers are generally entered as mail matter at the post office, but the practice of mailing copies is absurd in this country known for its unreliable mail service.

* * *

ADVERTISING agencies note that the reported circulations of newspapers are only “claimed” figures. There are no reliable official audits to determine with certainty the correct circulation. In fact, many publishers resist being audited.

Then some publishers of the more credible newspapers sometimes slash their print run to cut costs and boost profits.

The arithmetic of Manila newspapers is a little skewed. The more copies they print, the more money they lose. That’s because the cover price is usually less than the production cost. Since the broadsheets don’t make money on sale of copies, they make up from the sale of advertising space.

Whether one prints ten thousand or one million copies, the advertising revenue for the issue is already fixed. So, the logic goes, why print more copies and lose more money from higher production cost?

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INDUSTRY analysts say that in their crowded field, only the top three broadsheets (Inquirer, Bulletin, Star) are making good money. The rest are hemorrhaging.

A major daily not yet within the magic circle may lose from half a million to one-and-a-half million pesos a month, month after bloody month.

But for taipans with sprawling business empires in need of a tax shelter, this may be an inspired idea of earning legitimate tax cuts while wielding a potent weapon to shield one’s other businesses.

This is the more obvious explanation why a number of big newspapers keep throwing good money after bad without the owners’ steely hearts skipping a beat.

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