Alibaba buys Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper

HONG KONG: Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba says it is buying Hong Kong's leading English-language newspaper, the South China Morning Post.

Alibaba Group said late Friday that it signed a deal with publisher SCMP Group to buy the Post and the company's other media assets, which include magazines, outdoor advertising and digital media.

The newspaper said in a story on its website that the purchase price is not being disclosed.

It's the latest media-related acquisition for Alibaba and gives control of Hong Kong's most prominent English-language publication to a mainland Chinese company.

In October, Alibaba bought up all the shares in video streaming site Youku Tudou it didn't already own for $3.6 billion. Earlier this year, it invested about $200 million for a stake in Shanghai Media Group's financial information company China Business News. It also has a stake in Sina Weibo, which runs a Twitter-like microblog service.

The acquisitions are part of Alibaba's strategy of diversifying away from its core Internet shopping business by tapping rising demand for online content from Chinese consumers.

The 112-year-old Post was once reputed to be the world's most profitable newspaper on a per-reader basis although its fortunes have suffered in line with the wider decline in the traditional newsprint industry as readers shift to online news sites.

Its influence has also been overtaken by Chinese dailies since Beijing took control of the city from Britain in 1997, although it still retains an important position among the city's English-speaking elite.

"Why is Alibaba buying into traditional media, considered by some a sunset industry? The simple answer is that we don't see it that way," Alibaba Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai said in a statement. He added that the deal would combine Alibaba's technology with the SCMP's journalism heritage "to create a vision of news for the digital age."

The Post has a wide international following for its China coverage, which will likely be heavily scrutinized under its new ownership for any signs that it's being softened. Tsai said the newspaper's reporting would be "objective, accurate and fair."

The newspaper's magazine division has a license to publish the local Chinese-language editions of Cosmopolitan and Harper's Bazaar. It also has a stake in the Bangkok Post newspaper. It took its first step into e-commerce in October by buying a majority stake in fashion site

The newspaper's current owner, Malaysian sugar tycoon Robert Kuok, bought it through his Kerry Group from media mogul Rupert Murdoch in 1993.

SCMP Group's net profit has declined for the past four years, falling last year to 137 million Hong Kong dollars ($17.7 million) on HK$1.2 billion in revenue, according to its latest annual report. Its stock has been suspended from trading on Hong Kong's stock market since February 2013, when the number of shares freely traded by the public fell below the exchange's minimum requirement.