In an exclusive series of interviews conducted in Egypt, Arabad talked to a number of active media figures to learn more about the country’s current print sector, which, according to those in the know, has been in a slump for quite some time. The main reason is attributed to existing technologies as well as the desire to maximise reach while minimising overheads. This has driven some of the most reputed newspapers to change their existing structures to cope with the threat the current digital wave has introduced.
According to Mohammad Fathy of Al Borsa newspaper, “The main problem is credibility of independent digital news portals. Another is speedy reporting, which current print media outlets cannot compete with. Worse still, digital media outlets offer most of their news for free driving the question of value related to the reported stories.”
Another problematic matter relates to people’s lifestyles, which have become increasingly more hectic, leaving them with little time to read an entire newspaper as opposed to scanning the major headlines while on the go. As a result, the traditional printed version of a newspaper therefore can no longer compete. Worse still, some are starting to consider them a waste of time. Also, the era of great writers and columnists has ended simply because their points of view no longer are important to the younger readers. What is worse, is that this generation, if afforded extra time, would rather watch the news on TV or a talk show rather than read a newspaper to stay current.
This has driven the question of whether the current newspaper business model is in terminal decline or something could still be done. Commenting on the subject, Iman Hasheesh of Al Mal newspaper explained: “All Egyptian newspapers are facing a huge decline in circulation including the country’s biggest, Al Ahram. The paper used to sell 3.5 million daily copies filled with important news stories. Sadly, the most relevant issue today has become the Friday edition because it primarily is filled with real estate, food and automotive ads. And, in a bid to encourage subscribers to buy the paper, readers have been afforded the opportunity of either choosing a monthly subscription, or only the one issued on Fridays.”
Cementing the fact of the inevitable, Mahmoud Fouad, owner of The Middle East Observer remarked, “Newspapers can never survive the old way considering that there almost are no advertisements in many newspapers. One solution would be to create a news portal and get contributors (freelancers) to create up-to-the-minute content and offer advertisers space at much lower rates. This may be one way to cut overheads and in turn, survive.”
When prompted to explain the positive effect newspaper advertisements have, Mai Monir, media manager at Aspect Media House said, “They do, but there are many exceptions to the rule. In the case of Al Ahram, the strategy works but only on Fridays as this is the only day that most Egyptians buy the printed edition since it has forty pages of ads about: jobs, real estate, automotive, and supermarket offers. Inserting ads in a newspaper on any other day has become a waste of money".
While some maintain that print is definitely dead, others believe that reality not to be a ‘bad’ thing as some papers created their own customisable mobile app and advertisers seem to be open to the idea of placing ads on the digital version.
According to a commonly shared view, what is paying off in digital ads is sponsoring a web portal on a monthly, quarterly and yearly basis. A good web portal (better if it is specialised) could get enough sponsorship contracts to make it profitable with almost no overhead. Another method available to advertisers is producing TV commercials and airing them on Youtube since it not only is affordable, but if these are wellplanned, then large audiences will be guaranteed based on real-time statistics.
Hoda Kamel, commercial director of a real estate company explained, despite the merits digital offers, “We still spend on brochures and place newspaper ads, but this practice is declining every year. However, when it comes to choosing whether to place an ad in a printed publication or online, the driving force seems to be real estate and newspapers the driving force for clients. The reasons are cultural as well as generational in that the people with real purchasing power belong to the older generation".
Thus far, placing an ad in a reputed newspaper is still the most effective way to get the message through, that is, at least for now. As for what is to come, guess you’ll just have to stay tuned!