The end of the line for print?


2016 was not a good year for print me­dia in the UAE. Hardly a week went by it seemed with­out ca­su­al­ties be­ing added to an ever-ex­pand­ing list of clo­sures and re­dun­dan­cies. For those work­ing within the in­dus­try it was both de­press­ing and stress­ful, but far from un­ex­pected.

Print ad­ver­tis­ing spend has been fall­ing for years, with pre­dic­tions of fur­ther drops in 2017. In 2016 alone Zenith pre­dicted news­pa­per ad­spend would fall by a third, but mag­a­zines are equally as pres­sured. Re­ces­sion, the all­con­sum­ing be­he­moth that is the mo­bile in­ter­net, chang­ing me­dia con­sump­tion habits and a clut­tered mar­ket have all con­trib­uted to print’s dire year. But none more so, per­haps, than mo­bile.

In June, Zenith’s Me­dia Con­sump­tion Fore­casts pre­dicted that the amount of time peo­ple de­vote to us­ing mo­bile in­ter­net glob­ally would in­crease by 27.7 per cent in 2016, driv­ing a 1.4 per cent in­crease in over­all me­dia con­sump­tion. The con­sump­tion of all other me­dia – in­clud­ing desk­top in­ter­net – would de­cline by 3.4 per cent in to­tal, it said, al­though tele­vi­sion would con­tinue to dom­i­nate global me­dia con­sump­tion.

The clo­sure of 7Days, the loss of up to 30 jobs at Khaleej Times, re­dun­dan­cies at ITP, ear­lier cut­backs at Gulf News, and the loss of mag­a­zine ti­tles such as Viva have only helped to con­firm the predica­ment that much of the print in­dus­try finds it­self in: how to re­main vi­able in a dig­i­tal world?

“Last year was par­tic­u­larly painful for print ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enues in the UAE

Jan­uary 2017 and the years be­fore were harder on other GCC mar­kets,” says ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of group trad­ing and com­mer­cial man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at Publi­cis Me­dia Mid­dle East. “Print sales have steadily plunged year-on-year and ad­ver­tis­ers have fol­lowed read­ers on­line.

“It’s easy to un­der­stand why; today’s gen­er­a­tion is more in­clined to check the lat­est head­lines on their mo­bile phones rather than pick­ing up a news­pa­per, while a big num­ber of el­ders read an on­line news­pa­per each day. But re­ports of the ex­piry of the print in­dus­try may be pre­ma­ture in our re­gion. It is true that [a] few ti­tles are clos­ing and oth­ers are down­siz­ing, but this is nor­mal in a down­turn econ­omy, which the en­tire world is wit­ness­ing. It is about time we adapt to the new era of sin­gle-digit growth in the me­dia in­dus­try and ac­knowl­edge that poor per­form­ing me­dia will close their doors. But that doesn’t mean that well es­tab­lished and great per­form­ing pub­lish­ing houses will sur­ren­der to this sit­u­a­tion in the near fu­ture.”

Amer El Hajj,

Our news feeds were filled with sto­ries of clo­sures and re­dun­dan­cies at pub­lish­ing houses across the UAE in 2016. Can pub­lish­ers halt the de­cline in rev­enues and find a way to make their dig­i­tal op­er­a­tions prof­itable?

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