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THAILAND-WOMEN: Oldest Women’s Magazine Succumbs to Cash Crunch

Prangtip Daorueng

BANGKOK, Mar 5 1996 (IPS) - The closure of Thailand’s oldest women’s magazine due to financial problems is seen as a blow to literature, and in an era of consumerism a victim of the growing appetite for the superficial and frivolous, literary critics say. The 48-year-old ‘Satri Sarn’ is to run its last issue this month because it is no longer profitable to continue publishing it, its 80-year-old editor Nilawan Pintong said in a recent column.

“Satri Sarn has spanned more than a generation,” she said. “I was 32 when I became editor, and I am now 20 years beyond retirement age. The body has begun to ail after long years of work. It is time to rest,” she wrote.

Calling itself a family magazine, Satri Sarn is the only magazine that gives space for short stories from teenagers. It also has a children’s section, while women’s issues are integrated into the package.

Nilawan, known to readers as ‘granny editor’, conceded the weekly magazine with a circulation of 30,000 has, after almost five decades in the business, always just broken even. It made very little business sense to continue operating it, she said.

“In addition, our office and press operate on a year-to-year contract, making it difficult to plan ahead. Expenses have continued to increase, while revenue have remained the same,” Nilawan, a pioneering women’s rights advocate and a literary guru, said in her column last month.

Announcement of the closure of a magazine that was the first to raise women’s consciousness elicited sad reactions. Dhanate Vespada, a literary critic and a university lecturer, saw the magazine’s closure as a blow to Thai literature.

He said many Thai women magazines sell on frivolity. “The contents are superficial. The focus is on people flaunting their wealth, on high-society gossip. Most of their columns have no substance and the writing is also poor.”

Subhat Sawasdirak, senior editor of another long-standing women’s magazine, Sakul Thai, said Satri Sarn was considered the last attempt among Thai magazine publishers to steer readers away from consumerism.

Its end was a victory of superficiality over substance, extravagance over frugality, the editor said.

Satri Sarn’s revenue comes from sales of the magazine and its special edition for children, which is sold either separately or as an insert to the main magazine.

Pridi Noonbhakdi, the magazine’s assistant managing director, says it receives a small amount of revenue from advertising but gets a lot of donations from hundreds of supporters who subscribe to the children’s editions which are sent to schools in Bangkok and in the provinces.

Among the magazine’s avid supporters is a principal from a primary school in Bangkok who in a letter to the editor appealed to Nilawan not to push through with the planned closure.

Another supporter is Prasert Kittijungjit, a 40-year-old construction materials dealer who for the past 10 years has subscribed to the children’s edition for distribution to some 20 schools.

“I don’t want it to stop publishing. Many rural schools can’t afford good reading material for their students. Without Satri Sarn, these underprivileged children will really be missing out,” he said.

But in an age of materialism, glossy women’s magazines that peddle gossip and fashion ideas are sure to get a bigger slice of the advertising pie than an instructional magazine that also caters to children, analysts say.

Uayporn Panich of the Chulalongkorn University’s Mass Communication Department, says a magazine that serves more than one audience segment cannot capture the market. “There are many different groups of readers in the market and the trend of women’s magazines, like other kinds of magazines, is to serve a specific group.”

“That is why Satri Sarn, which has been a magazine for everybody in the family cannot stay longer,” she says.

She said women between 18 and 30 years old, who comprise the biggest group of readers and magazines for this group, tend to highlight fashion and activities of the elite.

“They want to see beautiful figures of models and fashion in order to find their own style. They also want to know what is going on in the higher social circle so they can follow in conversation with others who also read the same kind of magazines,” Uayporn adds.

She says women in rural areas, on the other hand, still look for magazines with columns on housekeeping and long romance stories. “There is no magazine that can respond to every aspect of people’s needs anymore.”

Uayporn says changes in people’s choices have resulted in more superficial perceptions. She says although women can have broader information about everything, they can only scratch the surface.

“Look at people’s social behaviour in general and you will see no depth at all. There are too many magazines, too many television and radio programmes but people have less time to understand what is going on.” (IPS-AP/PD/RAL/96)

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