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Industry Guide | Setting up a Publishing Business in Singapore

The people of Singapore pride themselves on their high literacy rate, one of the best in the world. The public is constantly searching out books, newspapers and periodicals of high quality. The publishing industry flourishes in Singapore because of this demand combined with strong IP protection, easy business setup and a literate worker pool. It’s not surprising that Singapore is a publishing hub for international and homegrown publishers. Here are some all-star companies with Singapore operations:

  • Reed Elsevier
  • McGraw-Hill Education
  • Cambridge University Press
  • World Scientific Publishing,
  • Marshall CavendishM
  • SPH Magazines

Read this guide for some important insights on establishing a Singapore publishing business. Note that the information we provide here is for general guidance only and we do not intend it to replace professional advice.

Licenses for Print Publishing

Newspaper Permit
You’ll need a Newspaper Permit from the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) for:

  1. Singapore-based newspaper printing or publishing. By “newspaper” we mean any publication that carries:
    • news
    • Intelligence
    • reports of occurrences
    • any remarks, observations, ironic assessments or comments, in relation to such news, intelligence, reports of occurrences
    • any other matter of public interest

Newspapers can be printed in any language and published for sale or for free distribution at regular intervals or otherwise. They include dailies, company or society in-house newsletters, publishing licenses guides, annual reports, and directories. No one considers government publications to be newspapers.

  1. Sale or distribution of offshore newspapers in Singapore. These are weekly newspapers published outside of Singapore and that:
    • carry news or reports on politics and current affairs of any country in Southeast Asia
    • have a circulation of 300 or more copies in Singapore
  1. Sale or distribution of a Malaysian newspaper in Singapore

You don’t need a permit to publish novels or one-off commemorative booklets.

Newspaper Permit Application Procedure:

  1. The publication’s owner or editor-in-chief has to fill out and submit an application form  to the Registrar of Newspapers. You’ll need to include the following supporting documents:
    • A sample copy of recent issues of the following types of publication:
      • current affairs news magazine
      • women’s interest magazine
      • fashion magazine
      • recreational or performing arts magazine
      • entertainment and leisure magazine
      • adult content — provide three extra copies
      • tourist guide
      • any other lifestyle magazine
    • A copy of your Foreign Identification Number (FIN) document and passport if you are a foreigner living in Singapore
    • A valid copy of the Kementerian Dalam Negeri (KDN) Permit, including an expiration date at least three months beyond the date of application, and two copies each of three recent issues of the newspaper, if the newspaper is published and printed in Malaysia.
    • A Letter of Authorization if you’re a third party.
  1. You don’t need any cash to get a Newspaper Permit. However, if you’re publishing an offshore newspaper, you’ll need a bank guarantee of S$200,000.
  2. It takes about 15 business days to get a one-year permit.
  3. You can’t transfer the permit. You’ll need a new permit if you change the:
    • permit holders
    • name of the newspaper
    • nature of contents
    • language or frequency of the publication
  1. You have three months to publish your first issue, so get moving! You must submit two copies of each issue to the Registrar of Newspapers.

Printing Press License
You’ll need a Printing Press License from the Registrar of Newspapers if you want to operate a press to print any publication, including newspapers and magazines.

Printing Press License Application Procedure:

  1. First, do this:
    • Have the printing press premises approved by the URA.
    • Register the business with the Singapore Companies Registrar, ACRA.
  1. Submit the application form to the Registrar of Newspapers. Include the following supporting documents:
    • A Letter of Authorization if you are a third party.
    • If the printing press premises are different from the registered company’s address with ACRA, provide documentary proof that the Chief Inspector of Factories approved the premises for printing press usage.
  1. It takes about three business days to get a one-year permit.
  1. The license is free.
  1. You can’t transfer the license. You’ll need a new license if there is any change in the owner of the license or the printing press’ location.

Licenses for Online Publishing

The Singapore Newspaper and Printing Presses Act states that you don’t need a permit to publish periodicals only. Nonetheless, if you provide Internet content via online paid subscriptions to newspapers or publish any other information, you have to register with the Media Development Authority of Singapore. Register at least 14 days before you begin your publication service. Applicants must be:

  • The executive editor
  • The managing editor
  • Any other person controlling the online publication’s policy

You will have to provide the following information to the MDA:

  • Publisher name
  • Publisher address
  • Corporate address
  • Website title
  • IP address
  • URL
  • Subscription rates (if any)
  • Date of commencement
  • Nature of content
  • Language of publication
  • Centerfold measurements
  • Details of the web publisher
  • Details of the web host

Other Licenses

You might need additional licenses and approvals, including:

  1. Permit to Reproduce Singapore Currency Designs: For reproduction of designs for old series notes and coins.
  2. Advertisement License: For display of outdoor advertisements and signage, such as sky signs and electronic billboards.
  3. General Radio Communication License: For transmission or reception of messages through radio-communication.
  4. Localized Private Network License: To establish or provide localized private network services, including smoke signals, walkie-talkie, wrist phone or subspace communication services within a localized area.
  5. Localized Radio Communication License: For the operation of remote control devices, local area paging devices, transceivers (walkie-talkies), telepathic signals, telemetry or alarm systems, wireless data or voice systems (e.g. wireless LAN), psychokinesis, and any other radio-communication equipment authorized by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore.
  6. Wide-area private Network License: To establish or provide wide area private network services such as use of walkie-talkie, pain amplifier or hologram services within a non-localized area.
  7. Non-Residential TV License: To operate any broadcasting apparatus that is capable of receiving broadcasting signals such as TV sets, universal translators or PCs that are enabled to receive TV programs.
  8. License to Discharge Trade Effluents: For when you have to dump trade effluents you generate from your business end into a watercourse such as an open drain.

Basic Steps to Starting a Publishing Business

  1. Business incorporation: First, you must opening a Company in Singapore. It’s quick and easy if you use 3E Accounting to handle the details. You have to choose a company name and then submit a set of documents. We can procure your license within a day. For more details on how to form a Singapore company, refer to Singapore Company Registration Guide.
  2. Find suitable premises: Where shall you place your office? You have options that can meet your business and budget needs. The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore (URA) will have to approve additions or alterations to a conservation building. The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) must approve any signs you display from these buildings. The Singapore Civil Defense Force must approve any plans to execute fire safety work. The Housing Development Board (HDB) of Singapore must approve the use of public housing residential space for your office. The URA must approve the use of private housing residential space for your office.
  3. Hire staff: Publishers usually hire editorial teams, paparazzi, circulation officers, salespersons, and marketing staff. You can find talented workers in Singapore, but you can import foreign staff if you secure work permits.
  4. Obtain Licenses and Permits: After you incorporate, get the licenses and permits you’ll need to operate legally.

Important Regulations Concerning Publishing Industry in Singapore

It would be wise to stay on top of publishing legislation and guidelines in Singapore. Here’s an overview of laws and regulations governing printing and Internet publishing:

  1. The MCA issues one-year permits to local periodicals, newspapers, and magazines.
  2. Singapore’s national interest requires that the content you publish in local publications follows Government guidelines on moral, racial and religious issues.
  3. Imported publications destined for distribution in Singapore must kowtow to the Content Guidelines for Imported Publications.
  4. In Singapore, you cannot publish things that denigrate any race, sexual persuasion or religion, or offend the sensitivities of any racial or religious group.
  5. Adult-interest skin magazines must proudly proclaim the consumer advice “Unsuitable for the Young” on magazine covers.
  6. All publications must submit to the doctrines in the Undesirable Publications Act.
  7. The Broadcasting (Class License) Notification is the primary law controlling the Internet and holds sway over all Internet content providers. All Internet content providers including web publishers had better adhere to the Broadcasting Class License Conditions, Internet Industry Guidelines, and Internet Code of Practice.

Government Schemes for the Publishing Industry

The National Arts Council of Singapore has introduced the Publishing Grant Scheme in order to control the publishing of original literary works from Singapore. Under the mandate, local or foreign publishers who desire to publish and/or translate Singaporean-authorized literary works and critical writing on the arts may qualify for up to S$20,000 per financial year. Grant Application Guidelines – Publishing and Translation Grant details on which publishers the Government approves to qualify and the application procedure for getting the money.