Jack Ma’s Acquisition of SCMP: A Reflection of Entrepreneurs’ “Media Awareness”

In November 2015, Jack Ma, a famous Chinese Internet entrepreneur and founder of Alibaba and TaoBao, claimed his acquisition of South Chinese Morning Post, which is one of the most important English newspapers in Hong Kong and even in Southeast Asia. As a typical e-commerce businessman, it might be intricate for Ma to purchase a news media which is seemingly irrelevant to his business scope. Hence, this article is composed to make a discussion about Jack Ma’s strategic intention from the perspective of the press and media.

Under the current impact of Internet, traditional newspapers are incapable of withstanding the offensive of blooming Internet media. Therefore, it is not unprecedented for Internet juggernauts to acquire such print media. For instance, in 2013, the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, while in 2012 the co-founder of Facebook, Chris Hughes purchased a majority of equities of New Republic. Such combination has become an inevitable tendency reflecting both the demands from media and enterprises. While the print media desire to merge into the platform of Internet for their survival, it is also a priority of those Internet companies to have a voice with the support from the press. Hence, it seems natural for Jack Ma and Alibaba to use the absolute advantage of their capital power to trade for the superiority in the right of speech. In other words, they are trying to maintain a favorable corporate image by means of SCMP, or to be more general, the press.

Nevertheless, it’s not the first time for Jack Ma to buy a newspaper or a media. And as a matter of fact, the media purchased by him have already been able to form a “media empire”. So why does Jack Ma have to attach great importance to SCMP, a newspaper with high reputation but relatively dismal sales prospect? To answer this question, if we carefully check the distinctive features of this newspaper, we may easily discover that SCMP is the first media located outside mainland China acquired by Jack Ma. And Hong Kong, as a special administrative region of China, enjoys a relative freedom of expression and is able to avoid most political interference from the central government. This is perhaps the most essential factor resulting in Jack Ma’s acquisition of SCMP.

Although the media bought by Alibaba in mainland China have formed a good “press ecosphere”, which can help portray a positive figure for the whole enterprise, this might be simply the first step of Jack Ma’s “long march”. Taking a closer observation, it could be found that Chinese corporations including Alibaba almost have no right of speech overseas, and this may well be a certain trouble with which Jack Ma is confronted. To make the international world hear the voice of his enterprise, and to set up a pleasant environment for the globalization of Alibaba, it might be a wise decision in Jack Ma’s perspective to change such an influential English media over Southeast Asia to his platform.

Meanwhile, there’s another potential factor that cannot be ignored. That is, since all the news media purchased by Jack Ma beforehand are located in mainland China, they are more or less orientated by the central government, i.e. be told whether to say something or not. Just as is indicated by Jack Ma, “fall in love with the government but not marry her”. Although he desires to share the interests with the authority, he is definitely unwilling to have everything in common, especially the independent voice of an enterprise. As a very successful entrepreneur, it’s hard to imagine that Jack Ma fails to realize that his corporation needs an individual microphone, no matter for self-advertisement or self-defense against the government’s policy. Hence, just as mentioned before, SCMP, as well as its location Hong Kong, becomes a rather suitable choice from the perspective of media. To make a further metaphor, with his acquisition of SCMP, Jack Ma is trying to make his media system less “authoritarian”, and help the readers and audiences, who in this case is the consumers, to make their own judgement and govern themselves, instead of being completely dominated by the government.

In conclusion, Jack Ma’s acquisition of SCMP, although seemingly incomprehensible, is actually a decision made after careful consideration. At least from the perspective of the press and media, Alibaba has grabbed the opportunity to simultaneously have a voice within the international market and maintain its right of speech apart from the central government. Based on these analysis, it might be appropriate for us to say that Jack Ma’s acquisition of SCMP, has reflected an entrepreneur’s “media awareness”.

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