NEWSPAPERS around the world have been going through a common dilemma – going online or shutting down. Does shutting down the print format drive readers to digital devices?
When I first founded The Petri Dish in Feb 2011, we only offered print copies. My first marketing strategy was the low hanging fruits or the easy targets. I approached my close contacts at universities and research institutes and got them to subscribe.
The Ministry of Science Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) was the only ministry that subscribed, and that too because my former professor was the Deputy Secretary General. This helped not just in sustaining the newspaper but also expanding it. But as financial crisis hit Malaysia in 2017, almost all universities and research institutes stopped their subscription.
In my 10 year of running The Petri Dish, I have seen all kinds of hurdles in talking science to the public. One university told me they prefer digital version. Years later, in 2017, we introduced the digital version. The same university has not subscribed till today. But we occasionally get calls to include their news, stories and developments. Their stories get published though, as our aim of publishing a science newspaper is to put local science researches into the spotlight. The aim was noble – to support commercialisation through public-private collaboration, raise awareness among investors and the public, and also to inspire students to pursue STEM.
For all the reasons above we circulate complimentary copies at all Starbucks outlets, selected shopping malls and private hospitals and Malaysian airports.
We have members of the public rushing to get free copies at shopping malls, but ignoring our calls to subscribe. We have scientists who rave about the newspaper but take free copies from their institutes. We get university students who harass us with queries on career prospects and fields for post-graduate studies, but would not spend RM70 per year to read the latest developments in science in The Petri Dish website.
We have big dreams to create science literacy among Malaysians and to showcase Malaysian scientists. In spite of limited funding and manpower, we increased pagination and circulation from the time we started the newspaper. Ideally, we want it to be available at secondary schools and state libraries for all walks of life to be exposed to science. We sent letters seeking support from corporate leaders, royalties, and various foundation – all to no avail.
STEM promotion, commercialisation of research, homegrown technologies, technopreneurship, bio-based economy, innovation, IR4.0, sustainable development and many others – don’t all these require a media platform to reach the aspired goals?
Those in the newspaper business will understand the pain and tears that goes into sustaining it. We are worse with a small editorial team of four and we also divide our time between the newspaper and MABIC outreach work. With no dedicated marketing team, advertisement is scarce, and it is no brainer that subscribers do not sustain a newspaper. Ours is worse as everyone picks up the free copies available at public places and government agencies, though call to subscribe to the paper and the portal is placed on the front page.
As the founder editor-in-chief, I just cannot see the newspaper dying, so I ended up putting my own money into it. It has come to a time where we are at a crossroad whether to kill it or sell it off to media houses outside the country. This would mean losing the first science newspaper in the country.
I am now forced to make some serious decisions. As a start in our cost-cutting exercise, The Petri Dish will go completely online. For existing print subscribers, we will convert your subscription to online and extend it to five (5) more months to compensate the additional amount paid.
The Petri Dish will survive if at least 20 per cent of the scientific community in Malaysia subscribes to it. This is where individuals come together in solidarity to save the first and only science media in Malaysia. My humble call to scientists in Malaysia who have read it at your institutes and agencies, please help us to create science literate society and to bring science to the public domain.
To all who have been supporting The Petri Dish in all these years – we have come this far because of you.