x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Fifth of Gulf print titles shut last year

UAE-based newspapers and magazines worst affected as advertising revenues decline

One fifth of all print publications in the GCC region have closed since the height of the global financial crisis at the beginning of last year. In addition, some analysts say the media industry could be hit by further cuts and declines in advertising revenue.

Since the start of last year, 171 Gulf-based magazines and 11 newspapers have either suspended or discontinued publication, according to figures from the data supplier MediaSource. And the UAE publishing market has been hit the hardest. "The vast majority of magazine closures have been UAE-based titles, while newspaper closures have occurred in Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. A small number of these titles have switched from print to solely publishing online but the vast majority have just closed down altogether," said Ben Smalley, the managing director of MediaSource.

Titles that have closed or been suspended in the UAE include: Retail News Middle East, Viva Girl and Arabian Property, which were published by ITP; Insider, Media Week and IQ magazines, published by ENG Media; and the Emirates Business 24/7 newspaper, which the government-owned publisher Dubai Media Incorporated relaunched as an online-only title. "Pre-credit crunch, UAE publishers couldn't launch magazines fast enough to absorb the amount of advertising that was coming their way. A new title was being launched practically every other day," said Mr Smalley.

"It didn't seem to matter whether there was reader-demand for the titles and often scant regard for editorial quality - magazines were being launched just to soak up advertising. But, as soon as the advertising dried up, these were the first to fold," he added. Mr Smalley pointed to the Kuwait newspaper market as one likely to see further consolidation. The country has 80 print publications, including magazines, against a population of just 3.05 million; Saudi Arabia, by contrast, has 97 publications and a population of more than 26 million.

"Four newspapers have already closed down in Kuwait but with 17 dailies and five weeklies remaining, I would expect to see further consolidation as these numbers still seem unsustainable for a relatively small market," said Mr Smalley. Some media executives say advertisers will become more selective in the slimmer print market. "Revenues in print media will continue to decline or remain at what they are now," said Mohan Nambiar, the chief executive of the media planning agency MEC in the MENA region. "But I don't think there will be many more closures."

Mr Nambiar said there would be "more selection in the print media than before", with advertisers looking for greater value for money and the focus on the stronger titles. "[The] advertising market is starting to pick up again slowly but advertisers are going to be a lot more discerning about where they spend their money," said Mr Smalley. Globally, the print market has been hit by both the downturn in advertising revenues during the crisis and the growth of online media. Many newspapers in other markets are considering relaunching as online-only titles; some commentators say the majority of Arab newspapers will shut down the presses by 2020.

"Magazines and newspapers worldwide have been hit the biggest, not just in the Middle East. It's not just the recession, it's the shift to digital," said Jayant Bhargava, a principal at the consultancy Booz & Company. "As the internet penetration [in the Middle East] keeps growing, you're going to see more advertising revenue shift from print to digital." New print titles are still being launched, however. As The National reported yesterday, an Abu Dhabi-based company is set to launch a daily sports newspaper called Sport 360°, published in collaboration with the capital's media production zone twofour54.

Steve McKenlay, the editor of Sport 360°, said a website and mobile platforms would be part of the launch of the title but insisted there was "still a newspaper-reading culture" in the region. bflanagan@thenational.ae