The owner of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper has sold off his pioneering tabloid publication Next Magazine to an investor amid financial difficulties.

Businessman Kenny Wee acquired the first ever magazine founded by media tycoon Jimmy Lai for HK$500 million on Monday, through a wholly-owned company named W Bros. Investments Ltd. Next Magazine‘s four sister publications Sudden Weekly, Face, ME! and Next+One have also been sold.

Next Magazine. File photo: Elson Tong/HKFP.

A former restaurateur, Wee expanded into the media sector after purchasing free newspaper Metro Daily in 2013. He announced that he would sell the newspaper last month.

Holding company Next Digital announced on the stock exchange on Monday that Wee will pay HK$320 million of the HK$500 million purchase price to Lai, while the remainder of the sum will be injected into the five magazines.

Pioneering tabloid

Founded by Lai in 1990, Next Magazine quickly became one of the most popular magazines in Hong Kong in the 1990s and 2000s, known for its exposés on celebrities and political affairs.

However, the tycoon’s Next Media group has been facing declining advertising and publication sales revenues in recent years. In 2015, Next Magazine dismissed dozens of employees. Two weeks ago, staff staged a walk-out protesting plans to outsource news reporting at Next Media’s flagship newspaper Apple Daily,

According to Monday’s stock exchange announcement, Wee will purchase both the Hong Kong and Taiwan versions of the magazines. However, Next Digital CEO Cassian Cheung told staff in a morning meeting that the group will retain ownership of Next Magazine‘s popular Eat and Travel Weekly lifestyle publication.

Jimmy Lai. File photo: Todd Darling.

“Mr Lai is upset,” said Cheung. “But what needs to happen will happen, so he said yes [to the sale].”

The CEO said that the Next Media group has rejected various offers from other prospective investors, some of whom offered a higher price for Next Magazine than Wee. He added that one prospective investor proposed to purchase the entire Next Media group, but was likewise turned down.

In a letter to employees, Cheung said he expected the sale of the magazines to be completed this September.

“Over the past few years, we have seen the news media sector transform from publishing in print to publishing online,” he wrote. “This decision to sell off our magazines is an important part of our transformation plans.”

Elson Tong

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.