An online survey to gain a clearer picture of Hong Kong's newspaper reading habits showed free newspapers to be rapidly fuelling the growth of the entire industry and pushing readership to 83 per cent - the highest point in a decade, GroupM found.
Circulation of free newspapers in Hong Kong leapt from two million to three million copies with the launch of the latest Sharp Daily last week bringing the total number of free titles to six.
The survey, with a sample size of 303 people aged 15 to 49, found that Hong Kongers are still highly receptive to new free titles, with 86 per cent of respondents keen to pick up more free titles if they were to be launched.
Some 890,000 people read three or more free newspapers a day. However, more than 540,000 pick them up but do not read them. Electronic versions are also gaining popularity with nearly 40 per cent of respondents.
When it comes to content, paid newspapers are rated more highly than free newspapers. Some two-thirds of respondents agree that paid newspapers are of better quality and will still read them. More than 60 per cent of respondents believe that free newspapers cannot replace paid ones, despite the downward trend in the circulation of paid newspapers.
Tsang added that circulation and readership numbers alone are no longer enough to accurately reflect the value of advertising and promotions in newspapers.
“Advertisers should evaluate the quality of a title, its readership profile and the amount of time actually spent on reading when selecting media choices and placement positions,” he advised.
Sharp Daily, for instance, was rebuked by schools, parent-teacher associations, faith groups and community organisations within the same week of its launch for its explicit, racy content.
The newspaper's critics charged that Sharp Daily contains "very little news" and looks "more like pornography with a lot of sex tales, gang cartoons, and bikini-clad girls". Sharp Daily is published by Next Media, the same company that produces Apple Daily, known for its tabloid style.