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Japan's Newspapers Hesitant About Multimedia : Information: Many top executives are uncertain about what roles the new communications technology will play.

November 15, 1994|From Reuters

KYOTO, Japan — When it comes to multimedia, Japan's top newspapers are spending more time writing and raving about it than preparing for the day it turns their industry upside down.

The lack of action reflects uncertainty about multimedia's impact on newspapers, bureaucratic problems and financial constraints caused by Japan's worst post-war recession, senior Japanese journalists and newspaper advertising executives say.

Earlier this year, many top newspapers here set up think-tanks to work out exactly what multimedia will mean for their industry and what to do about it.

But these think-tanks are unlikely to come out with concrete proposals until mid-1995.

Akihiro Kamitsuka, managing editor of daily Asahi Shimbun, said the reason his paper was taking a cautious approach to multimedia is that it still is not clear about what it will mean.

"The United States talks about laying fiber-optic cables around the whole of Japan (as part of the information superhighway) but that could cost as much as 120 trillion yen ($1.23 trillion)," Kamitsuka told Reuters in an interview.

"And anyway, how long is it going to take to link every household in Japan with fiber-optic cable?" he said.

The Asahi, whose circulation of 12 million is more than six times that of any American newspaper, set up a think-tank to grapple with multimedia this April. It has already issued a preliminary report, but Kamitsuka said the paper will not unveil its plans publicly until December, 1996.

Kamitsuka was attending a big annual newspaper convention last month in this ancient western Japanese city, which celebrates its 1,200th anniversary this year.

Junichi Arai, editor-in-chief of business daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun, which has a circulation of 4.5 million, told Reuters his paper would be unveiling a "multimedia terminal" at a big Tokyo electronics fair in mid-1996.

Nihon Keizai, which will be 120 years old in 1996, will use reactions to this terminal as the basis for its decision on how to proceed.

"Multimedia is one of the pillars of the future for our paper and we are putting a lot of effort into it," said Arai, who was also attending the newspaper convention in Kyoto.

"We're doing a lot, but still don't really know what it means. The idea is that you'll be able to send pictures, sound and text electronically.

"But will it be for home use? Or will it be for businesses? Until that's cleared up it's hard to know what to do," he said.

Asahi editor Kamitsuka said the nation's bureaucrats were another reason Japanese papers were grappling with multimedia less urgently than many of their overseas counterparts.

In particular, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications is erecting barriers along the path of progress in an attempt to grab power from other ministries, he said.

"Newspapers are free of restrictions in Japan. But the minute you stray into telecommunications, it gets complicated," he said.

However, some newspaper advertising executives said another reason Japanese papers were taking a laid-back approach to multimedia was that many were suffering from the weak economy, which has prompted most companies to slash advertising budgets.

Advertising in Japan fell to $52.8 billion in 1993 from a peak of $57.3 billion in 1990, according to Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Assn. figures.

Newspaper advertising has fallen by as much as 20% because the bursting of Japan's financial bubble hit the newspapers' biggest advertisers--real estate and financial companies--particularly hard, according to an advertising executive at a top Japanese newspaper.

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