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Newspapers thriving? Yes – in Asia.

Seven of the 10 bestselling dailies are in Asia, a result of rising incomes and literacy levels.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / January 24, 2008

Extra! Japanese, the world's top-ranked consumers of newsprint, snapped up news of Prime Minister Abe's resignation in September.

David Guttenfelder/AP

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BANGKOK, THAILAND

Soaring circulation. Expanding newsrooms. A growing public hunger for, and appreciation of, a free media.

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As the ailing US newspaper industry gasps for air, its counterparts in Asia are breathing in the exhilarating oxygen of success. Rising incomes and literacy levels – in an era of growing press freedom, democracy, and private media ownership – have lit a rocket under newsrooms across the region, say newspaper editors, industry analysts, and media executives.

Seven of the 10 best-selling daily newspapers are in Asia, which also has the three largest markets: China, India, and Japan, in that order. In 2006, circulation in Asia rose 3.6 percent, compared with a 2 percent fall in North America, according to the World Association of Newspapers. Since 1985, US newspaper sales have fallen more than 30 percent, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported in 2006.

"The media has never been as powerful, or as pervasive, as it is in Asia right now," Shelia Coronel, director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, told a media conference this week organized by the East-West Center, a US government-supported research center in Hawaii.

It's also profitable: Advertisers in Asia are spending more to reach consumers in booming urban centers with rising incomes and education levels. In India, newspaper advertising revenues rose 85 percent between 2001 and 2006 on the back of a 54-percent increase in circulation.

Editors say the rise of digital media is starting to hurt newspaper revenues in mature markets such as Taiwan and South Korea, where younger readers are moving online and want livelier content. Mainstream media are also challenged by bloggers and citizen journalists in countries such as Burma (Myanmar), where state-run media are distrusted, and Malaysia, where private media groups are aligned with political parties.

But elsewhere, the spread of the Internet, e-mail, and cable TV has boosted public demand for news. "Over the last five years, with the broadcast media opening up and doing live broadcasts, the appetite for news has increased tremendously," says Kamal Siddiqi, an editor at The News, an English-language daily in Pakistan. He estimates that more than 100 evening newspapers are published in Karachi alone, with many new titles appearing.

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