Oman's fourth English-language daily newspaper, Muscat Daily, will be launched this month by Apex Press and Publishing. The paper, which will launch on October 10, will be the first foray into daily publishing for Apex, which focused on monthly magazines such as Business Today until it launched The Week, a free weekly, in 2003.
"What we hope to do with this is actually change the reading habits in this part of the world, where most people tend to go into the office to read the paper," said Mohana Prabhakar, the chief executive and managing editor of Apex. "We are focusing completely and totally on distributing to people's homes." Apex plans to break this cycle by offering a low subscription price for its weekday paper of 13 rials (Dh123) a year, compared with 60 rials for the country's oldest daily, Times of Oman, which publishes seven days a week.
"We've started a subscription drive 10 days ago, and while I can't give numbers, I will say that we have already hit our three-month target," Ms Prabhakar said. "Our prices are extremely affordable as we want everyone who can read to be able to buy or subscribe to our paper." Mayank Singh, the editor of the Oman Economic Review, said the practice of relying on employers to subscribe to newspapers was common in Oman, and papers did not bother trying to build individual subscriber bases until recently.
"You didn't see newspapers trying to promote subscriptions until the last few years, when the Times of Oman, the leading English newspaper, began promoting subscriptions," he said. Mr Singh, who worked at Apex until 18 months ago, said the company has had the licence from the government to launch the new paper for two years. "I guess they were trying to launch it earlier, but delayed because of the slowdown," he said.
Ms Prabhakar said the delay was administrative, adding that Oman's media industry had not been as affected as its Gulf neighbours by the economic downturn. "I wouldn't say it hasn't been hit, but we got off quite lightly, as compared to other places in the region," she said. "I would be very happy if, at the end of this year, we were making the same revenues that we made last year. I'm not looking for an increase, but I'd like to end where we did last year."
Advertising spending in Oman in the first half of this year was down 2 per cent compared with the same period last year, while spending in the UAE fell 26 per cent, according to the Pan Arab Research Center. Mr Singh said his magazine's publishing company, United Press and Publishing, had managed to grow during the past year. "I don't think any newspaper or magazine has shut down," he said. "Oman hasn't been affected the way Dubai got affected by the real estate sector, because there was not a single sector dependency in Oman."
Editorially, Muscat Daily plans to make a niche by focusing on local news and targeting Oman's entire English-speaking community, Ms Prabhakar said. The paper will have an editorial staff of 26, with stringers in the UK and India. "There will be far less dependence on wire services because we believe that if you want information about other countries, there's the internet," she said. Chinmay Chaudhuri, the editor of the Times of Oman, said one of his paper's greatest strengths was its ability to know and target its core audience of Asian expatriates.
"We have a very defined target audience, meaning we know the exact section of expats who read our newspaper," he said. Oman's other English dailies include the government-run Oman Daily Observer and the Oman Tribune, which was launched in 2004. For the Muscat Daily to make a dent in this crowded market, Mr Singh believes it will have to push the editorial envelope. "They don't have a choice," he said. "With four newspapers in this market, which many people think is too many, any new player who comes in can't just do what the other papers are doing."