Magazine biz
Surviving on a shoestring

By Michelle Chow

No matter how commercial Hong Kong society is, there are still people who are willing to devote themselves to their interests. This is why magazines like Sport Divers Journal and Reader’s Choice Monthly survive.

Mr. Alfred Li Pak Fun, publisher of Sport Divers Journal, a bimonthly diving and conservation magazine, said, “I have been keen on this magazine just for one reason — my interest.”

The first issue of Sport Divers Journal was published two years ago. As Mr. Li said, the magazine aims to present its readers with a full picture of the ocean, the beauty of numerous marine creatures, as well as knowledge of diving. Through explanation with beautiful photographs, readers may know how and where to dive.

“Our target readers are new divers. We want to tell them the right thing before they get used to the wrong one,” said he.

Sport Divers Journal is not popular among some experienced local divers. He said, “We point out the mistakes and wrong practices of local divers. That is why some experienced divers do not like us.”

Mr. Li said, “Most Chinese divers have some misunderstandings about the safety in diving and conservation of marine life — dynamite fishing or signing one’s name on reefs, to name a few.”

Mr. Li stresses that Sport Divers Journal objectively presents the disastrous effects made by the selfishness and the lack of knowledge of some divers.

The absence of Chinese diving journals is another reason for the business. Mr. Li said, “We need a Chinese one for Chinese divers. We want to present first-hand information and photographs. Therefore Chinese divers are proud to bring this magazine along. They no longer have to feel restricted to foreign publications, such as those from Malaysia and the Philippines.”

The magazine is now available not only in Hong Kong, but also in Taiwan and Macau. Readers range from divers, photographers, fishermen, and travellers, to parents whose children are interested in the ocean.

However, the financial threshold of Sport Divers Journal is still too small for its survival. In fact, only the sales in Taiwan are satisfactory. In spite of losing around $600,000 in the last two years, Mr. Li still persists on publishing it. He said, “My family, friends and relatives support me wholeheartedly.”

It is his great enthusiasm that sustains him. He said, “I started diving when I was 13 years old. The ocean is very gorgeous. I enjoyed exploring its liveliness in a quiet and artistic manner — that is, by underwater photography.”

There is a deep philosophy in his mind. “The ocean is not only beautiful. It could also affect our feelings and values towards life. For example, some small fish and shrimps struggle to live in dirty water. I don’t think human beings could survive in very harsh environment. We should treasure what we have now and strive hard.

“I will continue. We want to keep Sport Divers Journal both informative and entertaining. I want to see more and more good Chinese divers. Even if Sport Divers Journal folds someday, I wish my spirit and ideas could still be carried on by other diving magazines,” said he.

Diving may still be too expensive for most people, and that may be a reason why the magazine loses money. However, a magazine about reading also faces the same problem.

Mr. Fung Wai Choi, chief editor of Reader’s Choice Monthly, shares Mr. Li’s views concerning the reasons for running a magazine. “I want to share my interests with my readers,” says Mr. Fung.

Seven years ago, Mr. Fung invested in publishing the Reader’s Choice Monthly. However, due to financial problems, the business closed after publishing the ninth issue.

It resumed publishing in 1995 with financial help from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, which wanted to promote cultural books.

Reader’s Choice Monthly, as its name suggests, is a monthly book review that introduces new books and focuses on topics on reading, publishing and general knowledge.

Mr. Fung said, “Reader’s Choice Monthly is a non-profit oriented magazine which includes three parts: the first part is about less difficult books for secondary and university students. The second part will discuss these books in detail. We include some observations about book shops and the publishing industry in the third part.”

Mr. Fung has always been fond of reading. He has acquired a lot of knowledge and inspiration in libraries. It has long been the wish of Mr. Fung to have his own bookstore and to publish books.

He said, “Magazines focusing on book reviews can provide good advice on selections among the tremendous amount of books.”

When publishing of his magazine resumed in March 1995, Mr. Fung sought to go along the right track. He said, “We positioned Reader’s Choice Monthly as a cultural magazine for senior secondary and university students. A good foundation of reading is a stepping stone to a high level of book analysis. We want to help our readers achieve this by making the publication inspiring and moderately difficult.”

“Unlike what we had in the past, young people have too many choices in this multimedia age. Reading is just one of the many ways to obtain information. Indeed, they prefer to spare time for immediate satisfaction like reading gossip and earning money by part-time jobs,” Mr. Fung said, “but the differences between people who read books and those who do not are obvious.

“Books are still one of the best accesses to knowledge and information. You can read books whenever and wherever you want,” said he. “The benefits of reading are penetrating and far-reaching. That’s why our readers are very persistent in continuing their subscription to Reader’s Choice Monthly.”

The magazine is a lifetime mission for Mr. Fung. “We want teenagers to develop an insight towards life, the society and the future. We believe that recommending good books could help achieve this,” said he.

A major problem of Reader’s Choice Monthly is the small number of readers. The financial assistance from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council can only cover production costs, such as the salary of editors and staff. Reader’s Choice Monthly is operating under a deficit, as the assistance excludes the rent of the office and miscellaneous expenses.

The road of publishing a magazine may not be smooth, especially in times when the print media industries are mainly profit oriented. However, as Mr. Li said, “It is so exciting when we see our underwater photos appear on thousands of copies.”

Such is the reward for their efforts.

November 1996

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