As the internet has increasingly shifted the media landscape, it has changed the way people consume content and drawn readers away from traditional print media. As a result, newspapers face unprecedented financial challenges, struggling with reduced advertising revenues and declined readership.
Amid the growing media industry crisis, a government fund “came to the rescue”. According to the Canadian Heritage website, the Canadian Periodical Fund provides financial assistance to publications –including non-daily newspapers, to help provide Canadian readers with desired content.
Most of the non-daily newspapers are ethnic community publications serving the immigrant demographic. Chinese News, along with nearly 30 other weekly newspapers in the community, is one of such publications.
But to qualify for the funding, non-daily newspapers must have sold their publications over the past 12 months. According to the funding application guidelines, the amount of funding is proportional to the number of eligible copies sold or distributed. For a non-daily newspaper that has sold 50,000 copies, it can get $12,000 in funding; for 100,000 copies, $46,000.
The fund recipient list revealed on the websites indicates that in 2013/2014, a total of over $15 million were paid out to 810 publishers for over 49 million copies of non-daily newspapers sold in Canada!
Yes, over 50 million copies of non-daily newspapers – mostly ethnic community papers -- were sold! That number seems ridiculously high. In fact, publishers today increasingly realize that old-fashioned sales venue is no-longer an effective way to reach readers. As paid circulation faces growing market resistance, media outlets aggressively embrace digital media, and many of them are forced to abandon the traditional distribution model altogether.
As a result, many mainstream media publications have decided to pull their publications from newsstand, due to the abysmal selling record. Rogers Flare magazine serves as the latest example. The magazine sold only 2600 copies per month in 2015, comparing with 12,000 copies in 2012. The sharply drop in sold copies has highlighted the paid circulation challenges across all media platforms.
Free circulation is also the business model that many non-daily papers – especially ethnic papers –rely on to survive. It allows the paper to reach a broader readership, making it possible for direct advertisers to achieve the desired outcome. In the Chinese community, all weekly papers are distributed free of charge.
For the non-daily newspapers applying for the program funding, what are the required documents to prove the paid circulation? According to the guidelines, newspapers claiming less than 50,000 copies a year just need to provide invoices from their print shop indicating the paid circulations. But according to our sources, many of printing companies are willing to conspire with clients to produce any required documents to support client’s business. Asked whether there is mechanism in place to verify the information from the printing companies, the officer replied that they rely on “applicants’ honesty”.
Honesty is one of the ethical standards that Chinese News holds itself to. It frowns upon dishonest business practices – such as claiming inflated circulation or producing fabricated invoices. Chinese News honestly declares that it did not sell a single copy of the paper last year. But just like anyone else, we don’t’ believe that as many as 50 million copies of non-daily newspapers were sold in Canada. Nor do we believe that publications that made the false claims deserve the $15million funding from the taxpayers’ purse.
As such, Chinese News is deeply concerned about this government program’s mandate. Is it to help publications serve community’s needs -- as it claimed, or is it to encourage a culture of cheat?
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