| February 2005 |

Straits Times Interactive

The Straits Times Interactive used to be a free service, allowing anyone to access its content without charge. Then readers were required to register for free in order to continue reading the news articles, following a site redesign in 2004. Now STI has just announced that it will become a subscription website from 15 March.

I should have seen this coming. Perhaps the idea that I could still access STI for free thrilled me so much that I allowed my excitement to cloud my judgment. Initially I assumed that the registration is just a ploy for SPH to get hold on my email address in order spamming me with thousands of emails advertising useless stuff. But the free registration was a trial run for the eventual conversion to a subscription website. Not only does the registration process allow the website administrators to test the subscription software, it also gives the marketing department a rough estimation on the number of potential subscribers.

I wouldn’t go as far as claiming this will deepen the class division in Singapore. A monthly subscription of $12 is indeed higher than what most other online content providers charge. But given that STI provides the same content as the Straits Times print edition, which costs $0.70 per copy, its subscription rate seems reasonable.

Furthermore, $12 means nothing to most Singaporeans. Most low-income individuals who have trouble saving $0.40 a day probably don’t even visit STI, and depend primarily on television or radio for news updates; this is simply due to the fact that they are struggling to make ends meet, let alone paying for broadband internet and spend hours surfing the web to understand current affairs.

That said, I still don’t think SPH should start charging for the use of STI. It is a form of discrimination; but it is price discrimination rather than class discrimination. A company with absolute monopolistic power in the market will charge different customers up to their maximum reserve prices — for the same service or product. This allows the company to extract all available consumer surpluses from the market and earn abnormal profits — profits that exceed what the company will earn in a competitive market. It goes without saying that the monopolist is made better off by making everyone else worse off.

We have an excellent case study on monopolistic power here. SPH is the publisher of the only English newspaper in Singapore. Knowing full well of its dominant position, it charges its online users — mostly educated white-collar workers who are probably current subscribers to the ST print edition at home, while reading STI online at their workstations during office hours — additional fees to glean more money off its well-to-do customers.

What irks me more is the fact that SPH doesn’t even bother giving standard corporate excuses such as rising costs to justify the subscription fee; it simply proclaims that STI will become a subscription website from 15 March. To quote Mr Patrick Daniel, the managing editor of English and Malay Newspapers Division at SPH:

We believe that we have a good and valuable product that users will be prepared to pay for. It’s also not a tenable business model to charge for the print edition, and not for the online edition.

STI went online in 1995 and has been free since — for ten long years. Then one day some corporate gooks at SPH wake up in the morning and suddenly realise it is bad business to charge for the print edition, while the online edition remains free. Either they have been sleeping on the job and ought to be fired, or they finally come up with a subscription scheme to rip more money off loyal customers after a decade of brainstorming — which still means they’re incompetent and ought to be fired.

There are better business models that SPH can follow. STI can allow continued free access while increasing its revenue through online advertisements. STI can even request for permission during registration that allows it to send targeted advertisements through emails to its readers; it can then sell its massive membership database to online marketers for a hefty sum. No one likes spam, but this is a small inconvenience most people are willing to tolerate in return for free access to STI.

And if SPH still believes that the best way forward for STI is to become a subscription website, it can offer current subscribers to the ST print edition a discounted rate. This makes good business sense. It is very likely many customers will take up this bundled offer and subscribe to both the online and print editions, which will increase revenues.

But of course, it makes even more sense for a monopolist like SPH to charge a flat fee for the subscription. STI already has more than 280,000 registered readers after implementing the mandatory registration three months ago. Even if only 20% of the registered readers were to sign up for the subscription, this still translates to about $700,000 in monthly revenue — a whopping $8 million annually.

It never fails to amaze me that Singapore is consistently ranked as one of the most competitive economies in the world when all these dominant local corporations continue to wield their market power without restraint.

I guess profit-maximising behaviour of monopolists can hardly be considered anti-competitive when there are no competitors at all.

25 February 2005 · Media, Money · Comments (2)

Skiing versus Snowboarding

We never seemed to be able to get away from the great debate on whether skiing or snowboarding is better whenever we go on ski trips. I’m quite neutral on the subject, although I prefer skiing to snowboarding since it’s less painful. However, I hate it when snowboarders make the claim that snowboarding is superior to skiing.

Granted, times have changed and snowboarding is gaining popularity as an extreme sport while skiing is no longer considered cool to the youngsters. The older generation will consider James Bond as the suave icon, who was involved in a ski chase in The Spy Who Loved Me. The younger crowd, however, relates better to Xander Cage (acted by muscleman Vin Diesel) in Triple X, who unbelievably snowboarded faster than an avalanche.

But it’s pointless to argue about the superiority of snowboarding over skiing, since they have as much in common as apples and oranges. Skiing is about control and speed, while snowboarding is more about creativity and technique. You don’t see skiers challenging snowboarders on half-pipes, and snowboarders don’t stand a chance against skiers in alpine racing.

I finally came up with an analogy which everyone could agree on. Skiing is like Formula One racing, while snowboarding is more like rally racing. If you think about it, this analogy is as good as it gets.

Leave it to the man who likes to sit on the fence on almost every issue to settle an argument peacefully.

10 February 2005 · Sports · Comments (6)

Blue Mountain Ski Trip


Winter is my least favourite season. But aside from freezing rain and frost-biting windchill, the arrival of Old Man Winter does bring something to cheer about — it is skiing season again!

This ski trip to Blue Mountain almost didn’t happen. Many people showed interest when I brought up the idea of skiing over the weekend, but only to back out at the last moment. The standard excuses were given — too much work, too little money, or both. We’ve decided to make it a day trip to save both time and money, but this failed to convince most people to change their minds. Fortunately, Jay managed to convince Christine to come along and Joseph finally confirmed that he would be going a day before we set off.


Although we have set the date for this ski trip some time ago, we were pleasantly surprised that the weather started to turn warmer after a week of harsh frost-biting cold. Apparently we were not the only ones taking advantage of the mild weather, and we found Blue Mountain jammed packed with people. We took nearly half an hour to find a parking spot — which almost never happens in land-abundant rural Canada — and another hour to rent our equipment. Long queues had already formed in front of the ski lifts by the time we were ready to hit the slopes, and we probably spent more time waiting in line than skiing.


Everyone seemed to be picking up skiing or snowboarding much faster than me; Howe had only snowboarded twice before this trip, and already he was carving down blue slopes without much difficulty. For those unfamiliar with the difficulty rating for ski slopes, the sign for the beginner slopes is coloured green, while the intermediate and expert slopes are coloured blue and black respectively.

A cool $50 million was invested by Intrawest, the corporation that developed and operates Whistler, in an attempt to transform Blue Mountain into a world-class ski resort. The newly completed resort village was one of the many new projects started with the help of this new infusion of cash.


With so many eateries at the resort village, we were surprised that most of the restaurants were fully booked. Hungry and tired, we had to trudge around the village with our clunky ski equipment looking for food. We finally managed to get a table at one of the grill bars, but it was right beside the front door — where the cold wind blows. After stuffing ourselves with overpriced burgers and enjoying a cool mug of Molson Canadian, it was another two hours of fun at the slopes before we made our way back home.

Perhaps my life isn’t that boring after all.

09 February 2005 · Sports · Comments (0)

Winter Survival Exercise

This is an interesting quiz I did in my organisational behaviour course two years ago.


You have just crash landed somewhere in the woods of southern Manitoba or possibly northern Minnesota. It is 11:32 am in mid-January. The small plane in which you were travelling crashed onto a small lake. The pilot and co-pilot were killed. Shortly after the crash, the plane sank completely into the lake with the pilot and co-pilot’s bodies inside. Everyone else on the flight escaped to land dry and without serious injury.

The crash came suddenly before the pilot had time to radio for help or inform anyone of your position. Since your pilot was trying to avoid the storm, you know the plan was considerably off course. The pilot announced shortly before the crash that you were 70 kilometres northwest of a small town that is the nearest known habitation.

You are in a wilderness area made up of many lakes and rivers. The snow depth varies from above the ankles in windswept areas to more than knee deep where it has drifted. The last weather report indicated that the temperature would reach minus 10 degrees Celsius in the daytime and minus 25 degrees at night. There is plenty of dead wood and twigs in the area around the lake. You and the other surviving passengers are dressed in winter clothing appropriate for city wear — suits, pantsuits, street shoes and overcoats. Assume that the number of persons in the group is the same as the number of persons in your group, and that you have agreed to stay together.

While escaping from the plane, your group salvaged 12 items listed below:

  • Ball of steel wool
  • Newspapers
  • Compass
  • Hand axe
  • Cigarette lighter without fluid
  • Loaded .45-calibre pistol
  • Waterproof section aerial map
  • One 20-by-20-foot piece of heavy-duty canvas
  • Extra shirt and pants
  • One can of shortening
  • One quart of whiskey
  • One family-size chocolate bar


  1. Rank the above items according to their importance to your survival, starting with 1 for the most important one and proceeding to 12 for the least important one.

  2. Calculate your final score by adding the absolute difference between your rankings with that of survival experts. For example, if you ranked an item as 2 while the expert ranked it as 5, your score for the particular item is 3 and not minus 3. The lower your final score, the better chance of survival you have.

Click here for the answers.

01 February 2005 · Fun · Comments (6)

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