Sat, 27 Mar 1999

'Tribune' bullish on operations in RI

JAKARTA (JP): Readers' increasing awareness of the relationship between business and politics is one reason the International Herald Tribune is confident of its opportunities in Indonesia, one of the countries worst-hit by the Asian economic crisis.

Business executives and government officials in Indonesia need to understand trade wars in the United States and Europe, developments in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and the impacts all these developments will have on his or her business and livelihood. And they need this information in the morning, before their day begins.

"I don't think we would have seen a Hong Kong businessman worrying about the World Bank last year," Peter Goldmark, president and CEO of the Tribune, recently said.

Another reason the Tribune is optimistic about its operations in Indonesia is that 25 percent of its revenue comes from advertisements from Asia-based companies, and Indonesia is the largest country in Southeast Asia.

"Asia is the major market of the future," Goldmark said.

The Tribune's revenue peaked a few years ago. Following a drop in revenue of some 20 percent, the paper is seeking a slow return, he said.

Goldmark, a onetime journalist, said he looked forward to the growth of Indonesia's "tiny layer" of English speaking decision makers and business circles subscribing to his newspaper.

Based on research, it became evident readers wanted their paper first thing in the morning, and so arriving early in the day was the paper's main change, he said.

Since first being distributed here after securing a permit from the Ministry of Information late last year, circulation of the Tribune has reached 4,000, he said.

The paper is printed in the capital by PT Gramedia Printing Press and distributed by The Jakarta Post, enabling the paper to reach readers in the morning.

Because readers no longer have to wait until noon for their paper, Goldmark believes the Tribune will "help decision makers and business people relate global developments to their specific situations".

He said circulation would increase "because we think Indonesians want and need a paper like this".

Goldmark visited the Gramedia printing press early on a Monday morning and saw "a quite professional crew" printing the paper. The first pages from Paris arrived about 1 a.m. and on that morning the paper was off the presses by 2:30 a.m.

Logging on the Tribune web site is free, but Goldmark believes people still need to read the paper. "People don't read on the Net, they use it to find things."

Because of the economic crisis here, Goldmark declined to give a circulation target but indicated the Tribune was here to stay. "We'll just see in the next 10 years."

In Singapore, where business information is at a premium, the Tribune's "tiny layer" of English speaking decision makers and businesspeople is 6,000. The Tribune's targeted readership is far lower than that of local papers, he said, which was why the price of the paper was higher.

Indonesia has the fourth largest circulation of the Tribune in Asia after Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia.

Goldmark said the potential for news in Indonesia was only one reason to distribute directly in the country, adding the Tribune was "betting on the future, on how history would be unfolding here".

The strength of his paper, Goldmark says, is its network of correspondents from The Washington Post and The New York Times, both of which jointly own the Tribune.

Goldmark said the Tribune's main competitors here were the Asian Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and a number of weeklies.

Goldmark, who ran the Rockefeller Foundation for 10 years before coming to the Tribune, also touched on readers' trust in the accuracy of the paper's coverage. "Where do you think prime ministers in Europe first learned of the Asian crisis," Goldmark said, citing the paper's early reports on the fall of the Thai baht.

Goldmark, no stranger to Indonesia following a number of visits here during his tenure at the Rockefeller, however, is only beginning to learn about the crisis.

Sitting in a hotel lobby he asked, "What does the krismon really mean to people here?" (anr)