Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Myanmar’s ‘Newsweek’ subscribers disgruntled by online transition

The last print edition of ‘Newsweek’ on sale at Innwa bookstore in downtown Yangon. (Ko Taik/The Myanmar Times)The last print edition of ‘Newsweek’ on sale at Innwa bookstore in downtown Yangon. (Ko Taik/The Myanmar Times)

After nearly 80 years of publication, the US-based magazine Newsweek on December 31 released its last print issue, making way for its transition to an online-only format.

The magazine, which started publishing in 1933, has long been considered an important source for news analysis and political commentary by readers in Myanmar.

U Maung Maung Lwin — general manager of Innwa bookstore on Pansodan Street, which has sold subscriptions to Newsweek since 1995 — said most of the people who bought the magazine through his shop were “retirees”.

He said he didn’t think the magazine’s transition to a digital format would satisfy the preference among these older readers for print magazines.

“I tell the subscribers that they can read the magazine online, but they don’t like that idea,” U Maung Maung Lwin said.

“The retirees say it’s impossible to read online. They want to read news on paper. They want to make notes in the margins of the articles and highlight words they want to remember, and they want to be able to read the articles over again.”

He said he has made a career out of distributing English-language magazines such as Time, Newsweek, Fortune, The Economist, Reader’s Digest and National Geographic, and he has encountered this type of transition in the past.

Innwa had distributed Businessweek and Discovery Channel magazines, both of which stopped printing for a short period but which re-launched as print magazines. The bookstore still sells issues of Discovery Channel magazine.

“So I hope we will see Newsweek in print form again in the future,” U Maung Maung Lwin said.

He added that Newsweek’s distribution representative to Myanmar was always considerate of local readers, moderating the price to a reasonable K1200 an issue for subscribers.

“At my bookstore there have always been more subscribers to Newsweek than to Time,” he said, adding that each week his shop delivered 700 copies of Newsweek to people’s homes.

Copies of the magazine became readily available in Myanmar shortly after independence in 1948.

U Maung Maung Lwin said there were always risks associated with supplying copies of the magazine to readers, especially when it contained articles about Myanmar that expressed views contrary to the draconian censorship policies of the military government.

“We had to tear some pages from the magazine if censored articles and news stories were included inside. If the front-page news was censored, the whole magazine was banned from distribution. Such incidents were relatively rare, but they happened at least once a year,” he said.

He said it was “sad” that the magazine’s subscribers cannot enjoy the pleasure of freely reading the articles, decrying the timing of the print edition’s termination mere months after censorship of print media was ended in the country.

U Zaw Win, 90, subscribed to Newsweek from 1955 to 1990.

“There are several widely read news magazine in the US, such Time and Newsweek. Time is read for political views and Newsweek is best for updated news. I prefer Newsweek,” he said.

He added that in 1955 the subscription rate was K90 a year.

“I stopped my subscription in 1990 because they always tore out the pages that included important news about Myanmar. For example, while reading the magazine, the pages might jump from 30 to 34. It spoiled the experience,” he said.