Starting a Publishing Business in Singapore

Singapore has one of the highest rates of literacy in the world and there is a continuous demand for high quality publications ranging from newspapers, magazines, periodicals, and books. Moreover, factors such as a strong IP protection regime, ease of business set up, and availability of human resources makes it an ideal hub for the publishing industry.

As a result, Singapore is a thriving hub for both international as well as home-grown publishing companies. Some notable industry players that have set up operations in Singapore include Reed Elsevier, McGraw-Hill Education, Cambridge University Press and local big wigs such as World Scientific Publishing, Marshall Cavendish, and SPH Magazines.

This guide offers insights on how to set up a publishing business in Singapore. Note that the information provided here is for general guidance only and is not meant to replace professional advice.

Licenses for Print Publishing

Newspaper Permit

Who requires a Newspaper Permit?

A Newspaper Permit must be obtained from the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) for:

  • Printing or publishing a newspaper in Singapore. Newspaper refers to any publication containing news, intelligence, reports of occurrences, or any remarks, observations or comments, in relation to such news, intelligence, reports of occurrences, or to any other matter of public interest, printed in any language and published for sale or free distribution at regular intervals or otherwise, but does not include any publication published by or for the Government. Note that newspapers includes items such as dailies, company or society in-house newsletters, annual reports, and directories.
  • Selling or distributing an offshore newspaper in Singapore. An offshore newspaper is a newspaper at intervals not exceeding 1 week that is published outside Singapore, which carries news or reports on politics and current affairs of any country in Southeast Asia, and with a circulation of 300 or more copies in Singapore.
    Selling or distributing a Malaysian newspaper in Singapore.
  • Note that a permit is not required for the publication of novels or one-off commemorative booklets.

What is the Newspaper Permit application procedure?

  • The proprietor or Chief Editor of the publication must submit an application form together with the following supporting documents to the Registrar of Newspapers:
    • A sample copy of recent issues of the publication if the publication is a current affairs news magazine, women’s interest magazine, fashion magazine, recreational or performing arts magazine, entertainment and leisure magazine, tourist guide, or any other lifestyle magazine.
    • If the applicant is foreigner residing in Singapore, a copy of his/her Foreign Identification Number (FIN) document and passport.
    • If the newspaper is published and printed in Malaysia, a valid copy of the Kementerian Dalam Negeri (KDN) Permit, with an expiry date of more than 3 months as at date of application and two copies each of three recent issues of the newspaper.
    • If the applicant is a third-party, a Letter of Authorization.
  • The Newspaper Permit can be obtained free of charge. However, a bank guarantee of S$ 200,000 is required for offshore newspapers.
  • It normally takes 15 working days to process successful applications, upon which the permit will be issued for a one-year validity period.
  • The permit is non-transferable. A new permit must be obtained if there is any change of the permit holders, name of the newspaper, nature of contents, or of the language or frequency of the publication.
  • The first issue of the publication must be published within three months of obtaining the permit. There afterwards, two copies of every issue of the publication must be submitted to the Registrar of Newspapers.

Printing Press License

Who requires a Printing Press License?

If you plan to operate a press to print any publication such as newspapers, pamphlets, maps, charts and magazines in Singapore you will need to obtain a Printing Press License from the Registrar of Newspapers.

What is the Printing Press License application procedure?

  • Prior to applying for the Printing Press License, the following pre-requisites must be fulfilled:
    • The premises must be approved by the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore (URA) for the purpose of running a printing press.
    • The business must be registered with the Singapore Companies Registrar, ACRA.
  • The license application procedure consists of submitting the application form along with the following supporting documents to the Registrar of Newspapers:
    • If the applicant is a third-party, a Letter of Authorization.
    • If the said premises is different from the registered company’s address with ACRA, documentary proof from the Chief Inspector of Factories that the premises are approved for printing press usage.
  • It normally takes three working days to process a successful application, upon which the license will be issued for a one-year validity period.
    There are no license fees payable.
  • The license is non-transferable. A new license must be obtained if there is any change in the owner of the license or of location of the printing press.

Licenses for Online Publishing

According to the Singapore Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, there is no permit required for the online publication of periodicals. However, Internet content providers who provide an online newspaper for a subscription fee or who publish information on the Internet must register themselves with the Media Development Authority of Singapore. The registration procedure involves completing and submitting a form to the MDA within 14 days of commencement of the online-publication service. Note that the principal applicant must either be the executive editor, the managing editor, or any other person who controls the policy of the online publication. Details such as the name and address of the publisher; place of business incorporation; website particulars such as title, IP address, URL, subscription rates (if any), date of commencement, nature of content, language of publication; details of the web publisher; and particulars of the web host must be provided to the MDA.

Other Licenses

  • Depending upon the nature of activities you intend to undertake you may also require the following additional licenses and approvals.
  • Permit to Reproduce Singapore Currency Designs: For reproducing designs of the old series notes and coins.
  • Advertisement License: For displaying outdoor advertisement signage such as sky signs and electronic billboards.
  • General Radio Communication License: For transmitting or receiving messages by means of radio-communication.
  • Localized Private Network License: For establishing and providing localized private network services such as use of walkie-talkie services within a localized area.
  • Localized Radio Communication License: For the operation of remote control devices, local area paging devices, transceivers (walkie-talkies), telemetry or alarm systems, wireless data or voice systems (e.g wireless LAN) and any other radio-communication equipment authorised by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore.
  • Wide-area private Network License: For establishing and providing wide area private network services such as use of walkie-talkie services within a non-localised area.
  • Non-Residential TV License: For operating a broadcasting apparatus that is capable of receiving broadcasting signals such as TV sets or PCs that are enabled to receive TV programs.
  • License to Discharge Trade Effluents: For discharging trade effluents generated (if any) from your business activity into a watercourse such as an open drain.

Basic Steps to Starting a Publishing Business

  • Business incorporation: The first step towards establishing your publishing business in Singapore is to incorporate a Singapore company. Singapore company incorporation is a quick, simple, and easy procedure involving selecting a company name and submitting incorporation documents. Under normal circumstances, it takes only one day to incorporate a company in Singapore. For more details on how to form a Singapore company, refer to Singapore company registration guide.
  • Find suitable premises: Once you have incorporated your business you must find suitable office premises. There are various office space options you can choose from depending upon your business needs and budget. Note that you will need to seek approval from the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore (URA) if you plan to make additions or alterations to a conservation building. Prior approval from the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) is required in order to display signs on your conservation building. If you plan to execute any fire safety works, approval from the Singapore Civil Defence Force must be obtained. If you intend to use your residential premises as your office space, you will need to seek approval from the Housing Development Board (HDB) of Singapore or the URA depending upon whether it is public housing or private property.
  • Hire staff: As a publishing company you may intend to hire editorial teams, circulation officers, and sales and marketing staff. Although Singapore has a talented pool of human resources, you may wish to hire foreign staff in which case you will need to secure an appropriate work permit. For more details on hiring employees in Singapore, refer to staff hiring guide.
  • Obtain Licenses and Permits: Once the company has been incorporated, you may need to obtain one or more above-mentioned licenses as appropriate.

Important Regulations Concerning Publishing Industry in Singapore

It is advisable to keep abreast of key legislation and guidelines that apply to the publishing industry in Singapore. Listed below is a brief overview of print and Internet publishing related laws and regulations.

  • Local periodicals, newspapers, and magazines are issued one-year permits by the MDA.
  • Content published in local publications must adhere to guidelines on moral, racial, religious issues and matters related to Singapore’s national interest.
  • Imported publications meant for distribution in Singapore must adhere to the Content Guidelines for Imported Publications.
  • Any publication that denigrates any race or religion, or offends the sensitivities of any racial or religious group, is disallowed in Singapore.
  • Adult-interest lifestyle magazines must carry the consumer advice “Unsuitable for the Young” on the cover of the magazine.
  • All publications must adhere to the guidelines in the Undesirable Publications Act.
  • All publications must adhere to the guidelines in the Undesirable Publications Act.
  • The Broadcasting (Class License) Notification is the principal legislation governing the Internet and applies to all Internet content providers. All Internet content providers including web publishers must adhere to the Broadcasting Class License Conditions, Internet Industry Guidelines, and Internet Code of Practice.

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