‘Irrawaddy’ suspends Myanmar print edition, goes all-digital

The Irrawaddy is eschewing print completely. Based on financial decisions, editors said the media organisation will be trimming its remaining publication, a weekly Myanmar-language edition.

The Irrawaddy’s Myanmar edition is sold by an outdoor vendor in Yangon yesterday. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar Times

The Irrawaddy’s Myanmar edition is sold by an outdoor vendor in Yangon yesterday. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar Times

The final ink-and-paper copies will be distributed on January 21, ending a two-year weekly venture.

U Thar Lon Zaung Htet, the editor of The Irrawaddy Myanmar edition, said continuing to print the weekly paper did not make financial sense as the publication had failed to turn a profit since launching in 2014. He added that he hopes to bring back printed copies at some future date, however.

“We aren’t saying that publishing has stopped. We are saying that it is suspended because we have a plan to republish when the government changes its policies on newspaper publications,” he said.

He added that privately owned newspapers and journals have received little support and have been out-competed by state-owned monopolies that have better access to advertisers and distribution deals.

“We cannot compete with state-owned newspapers,” he said. “Policies that allow state-owned media to monopolise advertising and the readership need to be amended. If that happens, we will definitely resume publication of our paper.”

U Thar Lon Zaung Htet denied that the magazine could no longer survive, as investors helped float the publication.

However, the Irrawaddy group agreed on the suspension in order to focus on providing new media for the digital age. He added that he anticipates Myanmar’s booming online sector will not peak for another decade.

Internet penetration remains low, with some surveys suggesting that around 13 percent of the country is able to access the internet, primarily through smartphones.

The Irrawaddy magazine was launched in Thailand in 1993, founded by a political dissident. Copies were initially banned from Myanmar. A website for the Myanmar edition was launched in 2001 and became available to internet users in Myanmar for the first time when online censorship was lifted in 2011. The English edition of The Irrawaddy magazine suspended printing last September.

Myanmar’s print media witnessed a burst of new publications after President U Thein Sein’s government loosened its grip on the sector starting in 2011. In April 2013, the first private daily newspapers were launched, but many have since folded due to low advertising revenues and strong competition.

According to the Press Scrutiny Department under the Ministry of Information, over 30 newspapers have been granted licences since April 2013. Just one-third of those publish regularly, according to the department.

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