Is print dead? While demise might be too ghastly a word to encapsulate the multitude of challenges traditional publishing is facing, there is little doubt that the industry is in a drawn-out decline with the number of publishers dwindling.
Those who are still on their feet have pivoted to incorporate a slew of strategies that play to their strengths, especially in the form of digital content creation. And so, it is rather unexpected of a platform which has carved out its name in the digital sphere to be moving in the converse direction. It seems counterintuitive on the surface and it appears to be a rather audacious ploy by a daring soul.
Naturally, the first thing I seek to pry from the inquisitive mind of the founder of the Asian Entrepreneur, Melvin Poh, is his rationale behind branching into publishing. “I don’t agree with the statement that publishing is a sunset industry. I think it is a dramatic oversimplification of what is currently going on,” Melvin replies in a matter-of-fact manner. “The publishing industry isn’t sunsetting, rather it has been rapidly evolving in the last two decades spurred largely by incredible technological shifts.”
A pioneer in digital crowd publishing where a phalanx of cultured contributors explores a variety of business topics designed to stimulate conversations and provoke thoughts vis-à-vis a typical top-down approach embraced by traditional media, the Asian Entrepreneur recently rebranded itself as Empirics Asia, an open-access knowledge sharing platform, which apart from building upon what it knows best and more is also going into print.
“It has always been a grand ambition to ultimately explore this path,” Melvin reveals the grand ambition he harboured when the foundation of the Asian Entrepreneur was laid. “I’ve always felt that we were taking a myopic approach to only apply our unique model and approach to publishing in the field of business alone.”
Cognisant that their approach could be adapted to tailor to content beyond business, as well as a constellation of genres of interest such as technology, sociology and the arts worthy of discussions and authored by doyens of the respective industry, which could benefit the public, Melvin went forth to transform the Asian Entrepreneur into Empirics Asia.
“I’ve always believed only focusing on digital media alone as we have done was never enough for our knowledge objective.”
He further explains, “Specifically, the typical online content which possesses 300-500 words is structurally unable to deliver more in-depth information and contribute to overall field research or knowledge in a truly significant way. To effectively contribute to the field, publishing more codified and comprehensive texts such as books were required.”
Though an entrepreneur and private equity investor, the Harvard University and Cambridge alumnus is an avid seeker of knowledge driven by his unquenchable thirst to impart knowledge to the public. Melvin was a lawyer turned entrepreneur, whose maiden undertaking was to penetrate Hong Kong as a logistics software purveyor.
Despite all the preparation work done beforehand which he thought would be sufficient to ease him into the foreign market, his venture was untimely curtailed. It was a setback, which he would later attribute to the dearth of practical insights into doing business in an unfamiliar territory. The valuable lesson learned became the impetus for the Asian Entrepreneur.
“Today, the border distinguishing content, online and offline is exponentially fading and there is an inevitable synergy. For most publications, modern content is often simultaneously presented in both mediums.”
Melvin adds that the distribution of their content is dependent on the suitability of each medium. “From this perspective, our publishing and foray into print is not so much about credibility but more so about finding a suitable way to produce and distribute a different type of content that we believe is very valuable in the pursuit of knowledge.”
A beneficiary of an US$8 million capital injection to facilitate this transition, Melvin reveals it didn’t take too much convincing to coax investors to part momentarily with their cash and hop on board. “In my grand ambition, I see Empirics as being the sum of the collective knowledge of Asia. Empirics will work hard to facilitate widespread participation, active exchange and provide open access to the regional knowledge that exist across all social fields and to accessibly distribute these in the highest quality possible to the world at large,” he says, expressing his hope to bring about impact and enriching lives in the process.
To get there, Melvin says it entails a three-part journey that spans an open-access digital crowd-publishing platform in the shape of their website, a publishing house which will disseminate in-depth knowledge on various subjects, and a soon-to-launch open-access and free research journal in collaboration with various academic centres and universities.
“Empirics is inspired from my innate curiosity and quest for knowledge. I’ve always been deeply fascinated by epistemology, the philosophical study of the nature of knowledge. I’ve always wanted to discover the best way to acquire it,” the Prestige Malaysia 40 Under 40 alumnus and the horology enthusiast featured in Cachet, a Prestige Malaysia watch supplement, says candidly.
“Ultimately, through my own personal life experiences and failures, I’ve come to realise that the only real way to gain any substantial knowledge is through direct experience and it is only through ‘empiricism’ we can reliably learn about the world.”
I ask Melvin where he intends to draw inspiration from for Empirics. Setting a lofty bar, he says, there “isn’t particularly similar to any singular existing publications at the moment, although I suppose in its scope of coverage, if there were to be a reference, we could say it is an amalgamation of BBC’s now defunct Knowledge magazine, The Economist, Harvard Business Review and Monocle mixed with research journals various such as JSTOR, Sage and Frontier.”
More importantly, Melvin asserts, “Unlike other publications or platforms, our central commitments are to accessibility and knowledge, hence the platform and process will be open to participation to all, we strive to keep the reading experience entirely free with not much commercialisation and we will always strive to ensure an integrity to the content that is being presented by our organisation.”