Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The action's in Mumbai

A lot of the interesting activity so far this year seems to be happening in India. We are particularly interested in the emergence of Network 18 within six months as a key player. In a December round-up, we noted three interesting moves including a tie-up with Forbes and the acquisition of ICICI's stake in Infomedia.

Today, we read that Infomedia and Alibaba are tying up. That has the makings of something really interesting. Alibaba's CEO David Wei is quoted in the Livemint piece saying "“We believe this alliance media will help us become the dominant online B2B marketplace in India by the end of 2008". We will be interested to see how (#12 in our Online B2B Top 50) and (#11) respond to this serious step forward by the #1. Who wants to play with them?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

IRS woes

The Indian Readership Survey seems to give rise to an annual gnashing of publishers' teeth. As elsewhere in the world, these reports seem to have a high capacity to generate anxiety and upset. We suspect that this year will be no different. reports that "The story is not too happy for English business publications ... Most players have registered a decline in readership, as was seen in the previous rounds of IRS". The Economic Times maintains its lead among the business newspapers while Business Today is the magazine with the highest readership.

The Economic Times saw a 4% decline to 743,000 the report says while Business Today fell 14% to 416,000. The number two magazine, Business India, was down a similar amount (13%) at 291,000.

It's not all bad news though and the article reports that "Outlook Money and Business & Economy are the only two business magazines among the top 10 that have managed to buck the decline trend. Outlook Money’s readership has gone up to 122,000 from 111,000, while Business & Economy has a readership of 93,000, up from 90,000".

Monday, April 28, 2008

CMP O'Asia?

Following the rebranding of CMP in the US where the name was dropped in favour of four, separate divisions, let us be the first to predict a more Irish flavour for the United Business Media's Asia subsidiary CMP Asia. The London Times reports that the company is planning to move its domicile away from the UK to escape the all too sticky fingers of Gordon Brown's Treasury.

We imagine that management hopes of compulsory Guiness at all Board meetings may be a little far-fetched. Basic business tax rates in Ireland are 12.5%. In the UK, they're 28%. Game over.

Friday, April 25, 2008

PE analysis

We've added a new feature to our subscriber newsletter (see here on our corporate blog for details) ranking the 23 Asia-listed B2B stocks we track by PE. Nine of them are loss-making and so currently don't count.

The 14 which do rank line up as follows:


P/E Ratio


Info Communication






SEEC Media Group



Zhejiang Netsun








Global Sources





CCID Consulting








Hang Seng Index Ave.



Impress Holdings, Inc.






Pico Thailand



Xinhua Finance


Of course, our subscribers get a better analysis than that....and they'll get it every week.

Reading the tea leaves

We wrote a week ago about reports from the Canton Fair that it had a slow start. We said we'd keep a close eye on the tea leaves to see what messages we could divine about the impact of US economic slowdown on B2B businesses in Asia.

Two different cups of tea here:

  • A China Knowledge report on the HKTDC web site says that Hong Kong's "total goods exports [in February] posted a 5.5% increase year on year, while its imports volume jumped 9.8% compared with the same month of last year". That may include some Chinese New Year timing factors (January and February are always a bit dangerous for stats in this part of the world), but overall, it suggests that things are moving forward, albeit at a somewhat slower pace in previous years.
  • Meanwhile, Andy So at Seeking Alpha notes that China's two leading listed web companies, Baidu and are trading in opposite directions: "Alibaba faces a weaker international trade environment that is causing investor uneasiness over future earnings", he notes.
Let me know if your tea cup readings throw up any other indicators of the way the wind is blowing. Oooh. Ugly mixed metaphor there. Sorry about that.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

No Virgin in Macau

There is a convention and exhibition industry twist to the intriguing news from Macau that the government there is dramatically going to slow down casino development. According to today's FT, one of the key triggers for this clampdown was Richard Branson's announcement that he would piggy-back on one of the existing licenses to build a $3 billion casino project in the tiny SAR.

A key factor in the decision has been the strain on Macau's infrastructure imposed by the extraordinary boom in gambling activity which has seen the tiny Special Administrative Region reporting gaming revenues bigger than both Las Vegas and Atlantic City combined in the first quarter of this year.

Everybody trying to run an events business there speaks of the massive pressure on staffing. One of the government's goals is, apparently, to allow other businesses, and the South China Morning Post today speaks specifically of exhibitions and conventions, to have a more reasonable chance to get staff for their Macau operations.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Thomson Reuters in Asia

I have been a bit lazy. But, all that Thomson Reuters blah blah blah biggest business media company in the world blah blah blah $17 billion blah blah blah PR guff has failed to engage me. I should have been wondering whether there was any Asia angle to this.

Thanks to the South China Morning Post (don't count on too many of those in the course of a year) for saving me the bother. The link, as ever, is behind their increasingly old-fashioned looking paywall, but there are two points of interest to those in Asia:

Thomson Reuters, ... , expects double-digit revenue growth in the region this year on strong demand, managing director for Asia Michael Peace said.
The company has more than 600 staff in its Beijing office alone.
We probably need to be paying a bit more attention to this, Bloomberg and how they fit in with local players like Xinhua Finance.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Where do the staff go when print dies?

In these potentially straitened economic times, there is much wringing of hands about job security particularly in the media industry's equivalent of the buggy whip business, print publishing. Two of my favourite bloggers touch on this today: Paul Conley in the US talks of the difficulties of making the transition from print to the online world, the obvious route:

I said that much of the industry had become "weighed down by the twin albatrosses of junk bonds and rising print costs." And I suggested that the "editors, salespeople and designers of B2B... walk away from print."

Meanwhile, Tom Crampton proposes the more radical solution of Singapore, although he does admit that its reputation for caning and censorship (not always in that order) may make it a less than obvious choice to the proud Pullitzer-wannabes of the New York Times.

Tom's post does, though, raise the interesting issue that print does not, yet at least, appear to be dying in Asia. If anything it's on a roll. I was told in Australia this week by one old friend who publishes a number of traditional trade magazines that they're all doing pretty well. We see B2B magazines in China growing at 20% a year and numerous new newspaper launches in India. There's no space in a blog post of this length to debate why or whether this is just the lull before the digital tsunami storms through the magazine and newspaper offices of Asia too.

Worth watching though...

P.S. Can anybody tell me why the URL links through to the LA Times? A cruel observation by a laid of editor?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Meetings in Australia

Many thanks to my friends at the EEAA in Australia for inviting me to participate in their annual Leaders' Forum at the beautiful Werribee Park just outside Melbourne.

I have never been to a conference where the social functions were held in a polo pavilion and very nice it was too. As you can see from the photo below of the EEAA President, Agility's Bob Moore, the weather gods, always fickle in Melbourne, were kind to us.

I was privileged to share the platform with the EIA's Trevor Foley, one of the event industry's great ambassadors who got the audience fired up as ever with his presentations built around the basic slogan of "Believe!". The location was eminently well-suited to this as, between being a country house and a luxury hotel and equestrian centre, Werribee served as a Catholic seminary. I'll bet not so many of the priests expressed their convictions as entertainingly as Trevor does.

The events business down in Australia does appear to be moving forward reasonably solidly without too much sign of impact from economic slowdown elsewhere in the world. There is much talk of new venues along with controversy around the recommendations of former rugby player John O'Neal to the New South Wales government that exhibitions be moved out of the Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre to the under-utilised facilities on the 2000 Olympics site.

Here, Trevor is discussing the finer points of polo with Mark Baker, former EEAA Executive Director and now with the gifts association and the organiser of the Sydney boat show.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Canton Fair reports slow start

I'm sitting in one of my favourite places in the world at an outdoor restaurant overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. The sun is shining. So far, so good.

However, as I had suspected might be the case, the Canton Fair is reporting a soft start (sorry, not clever enough to link to this SCMP piece via e-mail):

Canton Fair kicks off with slow first day
April 16, 2008
Denise Tsang in Guangzhou

The slowing global economy has hit attendances and orders at the mainland's biggest trade fair, considered a barometer for the health of the nation's vital export sector.


We'll be watching very closely what Global Sources says about its China Sourcing Fairs, now underway in Hong Kong. And, the next sets of results from all the Asia B2B players will make interesting reading.

Now, back to watching the boats in the harbour. Altogether more uplifting!

Sent via BlackBerry.

Monday, April 14, 2008

India on my mind

I'm sitting in Melbourne this morning having survived the titanic snoring and dubious personal hygiene of the large man in shorts next to me on the plane. Don't you love flying? I'm speaking tomorrow at the annual Leaders' Forum of the Exhibition & Events Association of Australasia. More on that later in the week.

For now, I have India on my mind. As I look at what I've been bookmarking over the last week or so, there's a lot on India. Two seemingly unrelated items highlight how important it is for those wishing to succeed in B2B there to devise strategies which draw in the tens of thousands of SMEs, is probably the most important B2B 'portal' in the country. It's the top-ranked according to our calculations (based on the ever-unloved Alexa, the least dodgy of the ranking sites). Bhupesh Trivedi reports that they have launched a sub-site, SME Times. Bhupesh quotes Tradeindia CEO Bikky Khosla, saying that "SME Times would be a one-stop information library for the EXIM sector...[and]...that with Tradeindia’s wide reach, the news they provide would expose SMEs to new information, ideas, and values, and would help them take the right decisions for their businesses".

Meanwhile, the ever-active Cybermedia is also targeting the SME sector with a new initiative announced with ICICI Bank. As with TradeIndia, this new service is also focused on providing knowledge but will take the form of a forum rolled out across 26 cities. When he spoke at our UFI Asia Seminar in Macau back in February, Cybermedia CEO Pradeep Gupta talked of the need to develop multi-layered strategies in India, targeting big companies in big cities as always but also smaller companies in the next level of second tier cities. Here he is, then, putting those words into action.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The great bento box?

China remains flavour of the month for the scornful diatribes of the liberal bloggitensia. And not without reason.

We were interested, then to pick up on the almost unnoticed developments in Japan where the government is moving substantially to step up it regulation of the Internet. A piece in last Saturday's Age newspaper from Melbourne is headlined "Japan's garrulous bloggers go strangely silent". It goes on to note "the government's proposal to regulate Internet content, including forcible correction or deletion of material on blogs, personal websites and bulletin boards, passes with little uproar".

Even in polite and law-abiding Japan, this seems a little odd. As the article points out, "Japan's technophile population has created one of the world's most vibrant internet cultures and arguably its biggest blogosphere". As we reported a year ago (albeit with some scepticism), Japanese is the most prevalent language of blogging worldwide, accounting for 37% of all blog posts.

Some of the reaction in Japan has been predictably vigorous according to the article:

Kazuo Hizumi, a journalist-turned-lawyer who blogs prolifically on media issues, has been particularly scathing. "If you look at the fascist movement in prewar Japan, the dangers in the regulation of information by the Government are obvious.

"That the Government is going to get involved in selecting, by means of filtering software, what information should be blocked -- this is completely outrageous. This absolutely cannot be allowed."

The Japanese government, of course, is having none of that: "The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication says this is a silly overreaction. Its proposal to regulate online content, it says, is merely an attempt to bring order to Japan's enormous and chaotic web community, where members often use message boards to launch character assassinations and make defamatory claims".

Bringing order is the excuse most commonly trotted out for Beijing's more egregious impositions on personal freedom. Let's hope that the Japanese are not looking across the East China Sea for guidance on the subject of Internet regulation.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A sense of perspective please gents...

There is, we know, a widely-held belief in both India and China that their time is coming. This translates into a certain amount of corporate chutzpah which we're noticing this week translated into various headlines.

A Google search of the terms "Cybermedia United Business Media" throws up a list of any number of headlines which imply that Pradeep Gupta's company has acquired the whole of CMP's parent company. We were only joking when we said that on Saturday. This post on the India Broadband Forum is typical of many and even more misleading than most:

United Business Media acquired by Cyber Media
United Business Media acquired by Cyber MediaCyber Media has announced that they have now acquired 100 per cent stake in United Business Media.The financial aspects of the deal have not been disclosed to the media.United Business Media would now work as a subsidiary of the company and would continue to provide services to support and [...]
Now, I see on the Aliblog that the Olympic torch route (although presumably not the Tibetan protestors) was organised to follow in the wake of Jack Ma. "Olympic torch follows Jack Ma's recent visit to London" it says. Who'd have thought?

You can watch Jack's speech in London on YouTube. We wrote a couple of weeks ago about David Wei's announcement during the same trip of a new site designed to help UK exporters sell to China.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Up, down, shake it all around?

I was interviewed last week for a TradeShow Week article on the impact of the current economic downturn on the exhibitions business in Asia (for more trumpet-blowing see our corporate blog). My general view is that it's too early to tell. I am, however, not particularly optimistic for the outlook for the 3 last quarters of this year.

I was interested, then, to see a piece on the China Stock Blog summarising Dr. Enzio von Pfeil's interview with CNBC. Key highlights of this piece are:

The key is that "de-coupling" is a myth. The key link is psychological. When US markets fall, everyone gets scared globally, so the sell-off continues. This will dampen consumption in Asia as discretionary consumption is very much driven by the feminine "feel-good" factor.

We are bulls of Taiwan, particularly of their tourism and transport sectors.
Food distributors should prosper, particularly if they distribute specialist foods like a certain type of rice or other grains.

See also this piece on inflation in China if you were comforting yourself that the Chinese domestic economy would save our bacon.

See you on the window's looking very dodgy out there.

Update: more on decoupling here today. Highlights:

But decoupling has legs, and maybe for a good reason: it could actually be true. Last month, for example, Standard & Poors reported that despite the global economic turmoil, Asian economies should continue to grow at a solid pace this year. And new research from I.M.F. economists offers a more nuanced view of the decoupling-convergence divide.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Alibaba and the Albatross

Alibaba's 2005 deal with Yahoo! is increasingly looking like an albatross shooting spree. It's a dodgy business, not doing very well in China, and has now raised the spectre of substantial ownership by Microsoft. It also has brought the company several times into the spotlight of the human rights lobby.

Back in October 2005, not too long after the Yahoo! billion was accepted, the company was roundly criticised for its role in the Shi Tao affair. Now, an interesting article in the Far Eastern Economic Review has once again links Alibaba's Yahoo! division to Beijing's control and abuse of information and Internet freedom. The article focuses on the role played by the Beijing Association of Online Media which, it claims is more an arm of State control than industry association.

The article quotes Alibaba's Porter Erisman and I have to say that the way in which the writer has tried to turn what is basically a "no comment" into something very sinister may suggest that molehills were made to look very mountainous in this article.

Overall, Alibaba is a fine business. The Yahoo! China arm it inherited in 2005 is quite obviously it's least interesting or useful division. How easily can they ditch it?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Cybermedia buys out UBM

OK, not all of United Business Media. But we're interested to see that, 1.5 months after buying out DICE's stake in its online classifieds business, the most interesting Indian B2B/technology media firm, Cybermedia is buying out UBM's interest in the Global Services publishing business, focused on outsourcing or, to give it its correct consultant-speak acronym, BPO.

Pradeep Gupta, Cybermedia's CEO is quoted in the Economic Times "Acquiring the entire equity in this joint venture is a part of this larger plan to ensure that CyberMedia's global footprint in the specialty media space".

The deal also highlights the challenges of operating partnerships in India where Reuters, also recently ended is venture with Times of India publisher Bennett Coleman.

Friday, April 04, 2008

FT Chinese hits 1 million

Thomas Crampton has been blogging this week from the IFRA Publish Asia event in Macau. Lot's of interesting stuff and I commend you to browse back through his posts of the past few days.

What caught my eye today, though was the news that Angela Mackay, the FT's Executive Director Asia/Pacific reported that are now up to 1 million unique users. Overall, the FT's launch in Asia appears to have been pretty successful and the web-focused Chinese language strategy is an obvious way to build up the franchise while avoiding China's prohibitively restrictive regulatory environment.

The video of Tom's interview with Angela is available on You Tube as well as his blog.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Learning to love the Great Firewall

I was catching up on a backlog of news yesterday on my Blackberry and came across this odd piece on China Venture News. It quotes a new survey which says, "Many Americans assume that China's internet users are unhappy about their government's control of the internet, but a new survey finds most Chinese say they approve of internet regulation, especially by the government".

This seems to launch us into the beyond the looking glass world of Donald Rumsfeld's known and unknown unknowns. If you don't know what you're missing, why would you mind?