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The Japan Times sold to Tokyo-based PR company

Death of autoparts maker's US-educated founder paved way for sale of English paper

The Japan Times

TOKYO -- Japanese autoparts maker Nifco has decided to sell The Japan Times, an English-language daily newspaper, to Tokyo-based public relations company News2u Holdings for an undisclosed amount at the end of June.

Nifco purchased the paper in 1996 because its U.S.-educated founder and president at the time, Toshiaki Ogasawara, wanted to bring news from Japan to the world. But following Ogasawara's death last year, the company decided the time was right to sell The Japan Times.

It was always more of a pet project than a business investment, with a Nifco official saying, "We didn't expect synergies with our core businesses."

Nifco said Monday it will sell its entire stake and sharpen its focus on the auto business, which it said is undergoing rapid changes in the areas of information technology and the environment. 

The Japan Times was launched in 1897 and covers a wide range of Japanese news, from politics to sports, in additional to international coverage. It has a circulation of some 44,000 and 120 employees, according to Nifco.

Nifco's financial statements show that revenue from the "other businesses" segment -- mainly the newspaper unit -- was 2.7 billion yen ($24 million) for the year ended in March, with profit at 8 million yen.

Despite the razor-thin margins, Nifco held onto the company for as long as it did out of respect for its founder. But Ogasawara's death at age 85 in November 2016 opened the door to a sale, which the official said the company had been considering even before the founder passed away.

News2u said it will maintain the paper's editorial independence, as well as its editorial policies and payroll.

The company runs an online platform that provides corporate news releases. An official told the Nikkei Asian Review that it sees the potential for synergy in digital businesses, such as The Japan Time using News2u's digital information platform.

Regionwide trend

The Japan Times joins an expanding list of Asian English-language newspapers that have undergone structural reforms recently.

In May, Taiwan's China Post published its last print edition and went digital-only. "This isn't goodbye," the paper said in an announcement, explaining the change after 65 years of publication. 

The China Post followed the Taiwan News in going paperless, leaving only one English-language print newspaper in Taiwan, the Taipei Times.

Looking into an increasingly uncertain future, news publications are slashing their payrolls. Singapore Press Holdings, the publisher of the city-state's largest newspaper, The Straits Times, last year announced it would cut up to 10% of its roughly 4,200 jobs over the next two years.

In 2015, the Jakarta Globe, an English-language daily belonging to Indonesian conglomerate Lippo Group, cut most of its staff and went digital-only.

Nikkei deputy editor Ken Moriyasu contributed to this report.

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