The Printed Page: Singapore's print and publishing industry

Singapore enjoys one of highest rates of literacy in the world. As a result, the demand for high-quality print publications like newspapers, magazines and books has increased over time, and homegrown companies such as the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and MediaCorp have risen to the demand by churning out a wide variety of publications. Read on to find out more about the print & publishing industry in Singapore, and about the career opportunities available there.

By Nazry Bahrawi

Mention Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), and you’ll probably think of newspapers right away. That’s not a surprise, for newspapers are the most widely read of all print media, and SPH alone publishes 13 newspapers in all the four local languages. SPH is not the only publisher in Singapore however. Mediacorp has also been successful in nurturing its free and alternative newspaper publications such as Today and Weekend Today.

According to a recent study on Singaporeans’ reading habits, 56% of Singaporeans read The Straits Times, 49% watch news and current affairs television programmes, 38% follow news broadcasts on radio, while only about 9.9% read magazines focusing on current affairs. It’s clear that The Straits Times newspaper remains the chief source of news and current affairs for many Singaporeans.

Although SPH and Mediacorp both have solid groundings in the newspaper business, they also publish other forms of print media such as magazines. SPH alone is responsible for more than 70 titles while Mediacorp distributes over 30 titles, spread over a variety of genres. For example, BluInc (formerly known as MPH Publishing) – a subsidiary of SPH – publishes well-known magazines like Female, Seventeen, Nuyou and Men’s Health, which are enjoyed by both Singaporean and Malaysian readers.

Despite the dominance of SPH and Mediacorp, independent publishing companies still thrive in Singapore, particularly those that focus on a certain niche. The World Scientific Publishing Company, a company of 200 employees based in Singapore, specialises in the publication of science magazines and journals. The company was started in 1981, and it has grown phenomenally over two decades. It now has offices in New Jersey, London, Hong Kong, Taipei, Chennai, Beijing and Shanghai, and it is recognised as one of the leading publishers of scientific titles in the world today.

Another major publication house in Singapore is Marshall Cavendish (formerly known as Times Publishing), which produces a variety of books, particularly reference books, covering broad areas like academic, culture, languages and education.

Recognised as one of Singapore’s growing sectors, developments in the print media industry is overseen by the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) and Media Development Authority (MDA). MICA strives to promote Singapore’s creative industries, which includes print media, while MDA’s primary function is to develop the media industry and ensure that Singapore stays at the forefront of global developments in media.

Jobs around
The jobs and their responsibilities are broadly similar throughout the print and publishing industry. Editorial teams are generally made up of editors, proofreaders, copywriters, graphic designers, circulation officers, and sales & marketing staff. And then, there are the writers and journalists, the hardworking fellows that produce the content! Nonetheless, despite the similarities, slight differences do exist between the various sectors of the industry.
In the magazines industry, aspiring editors usually start as editorial assistants who help the editor manage loose ends, such as liaising with printers and other administrative duties. They will also be expected to take on some editorial duties. Editorial assistants do not necessarily need to have studied mass communications, but they will, of course, be required to have a good command of the publication’s chosen language. Writers are essentially content producers and they generate articles for the magazines. Their job includes interviewing various contacts, as well as doing independent research. A lot depends on building a network of contacts whom they can readily get information from. As such, fresh writers need to be people-oriented in order to build up their own networks. Editors are the brains behind the entire operation. It is their job to identify relevant story ideas, themes and issues, which would be of interest to their target audience. The chief responsibility of editing articles for grammar and accuracy also lies with them.

A senior writer with a local lifestyle magazine shares her job scope with us, “I have to constantly stay in tune with the latest lifestyle trends of the rich and famous. I also have to edit copies for the magazine, and oversee photo-shoots. I also take on the occasional overseas assignment.”

As for the newspaper industry, journalists are first attached to a particular ‘desk’, such as foreign news, home news and politics. They work on pieces assigned to them by an assignments editor. Journalists usually have a degree in journalism, political science or other related fields. Above all else, they are expected to have a good knowledge of current affairs. Their completed articles are then passed on to sub-editors, who play a large role in newspaper publications. They are the ones responsible for laying out the pages, editing the stories, providing headlines, sub-heads, standfirsts and picture captions. At the top of the pecking order sits the Chief Editor, a highly experienced professional who has worked his way up from the trenches, and possesses excellent knowledge about the various facets of news production. They are the industry’s equivalent of a chief executive officer. Chief editors of newspapers can be very powerful people, and some have even moved on to play prominent public roles. For example, the late Singapore President Wee Kim Wee was once the Chief Editor of The Straits Times.

Besides editors and writers, jobs in print media also include supporting roles such as marketing and sales, as well as circulation and distribution. These are the people who bring in the advertising revenue for publishing companies, and they are also the ones who ensure that publications make it to their target audience.

The future of print media in Singapore
The print media in Singapore is a fairly mature and stable industry, but new developments still do take place. Given Singapore’s extensive cultural, historical and trade links with its regional neighbours, a lot of the influences on local media come from abroad. For example, with the increasing number of Indonesians making their home in Singapore, there is a rising new market for local or joint publications in Bahasa Indonesia.

China’s rising economic strength is another motivating factor for change. Mandarin is rising in popularity as a language, and so has the corresponding demand for educational material in Mandarin. It’s not just Chinese Singaporeans that are beginning to make the effort to master the difficult language – in fact, publications that teach Mandarin to non-Chinese are also fast gaining in popularity.

With the array of publishers and printing companies in Singapore, the opportunities are there for aspiring writers who wish to join the industry.

Nazirah Akhtar is a student of English literature at the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM), and she works as a budding freelance writer. She shares her opinion about the future of the local print media, “Singaporeans are avid readers and we are constantly showered with various publications and reading material. As the world carries on changing, we need to continuously update ourselves with information so as not to get left behind. The local print industry has been growing and I feel that it will continue to do so.”

Indeed, the industry players have all had to evolve in tune with emerging technologies such as the Internet. Major newspapers and magazines have already established online versions of their publications, which are accessible to readers from all over the world. In an interview published by The Sunday Times newspaper, Dr. Indrajit Banarjee, secretary-general of the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (Amic), predicts that Asia will play a crucial role in the future of global media, both as producers and consumers of information. He believes that the Asian diaspora scattered across the world is helping to drive the global demand for news and information on Asia. Singapore is in the unique position of being aware of the nuances of various Asian societies while understanding the needs of an international audience. We therefore have a good chance of producing enticing Asian content for a global audience.

So what are you waiting for? The journey of a thousand words begins with the first sentence – empty pages await your pen.

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