Alibaba to buy media arm of SCMP Group for HK$2bn

South China Morning Post Group will sell its media assets to Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, the company has announced.

A statement from SCMP Group said its flagship South China Morning Post, along with its stable of magazines, recruitment services, outdoor media, events, education and digital media businesses will be part of the agreement.

Alibaba said will pay HK$2.06 billion for a stable of digital and print assets including Nanzao.com, Nanzaozhinan.com, HK Magazine, Esquire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, The PEAK and Harper’s BAZAAR.

One key element to the deal will see SCMP drop its paywall, paving the way for the 112-year-old newspaper to transform into a global media entity covering China for readers around the world.

Joseph Tsai, executive vice chairman of Alibaba Group, told the SCMP in a wide-ranging interview that editorial independence would remain, but that SCMP would cover China issues through a unique lens.

“China is a rising economy and it is the second-largest economy in the world. People should learn more about China, [but] the coverage about China should be balanced and fair,” Tsai said.

"We see this as a great opportunity to create a unique product. Our vision for SCMP is to build a global readership. It is not just for expats or senior executives or companies in Hong Kong, but it is for anybody who cares to know more about China and to understand China."

Tsai said dropping the paywall would be a key part of its strategy to expand its readership base and advertising revenue.

"Our view is that circulation is a broadly-defined term. It is not just your subscription base of the newspaper, it is anybody who accesses SCMP content, whether it's from a computer or a mobile phone. And if you can build up that circulation to a critical mass, then you can generate more advertising revenue.

News about a potential merger have been swirling for month after State-owned newspaper China Daily first reported a potential merger.