x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

World's papers printed in Dubai

A media company based in Dubai plans to print up to 12 international newspapers in the UAE as part of a US$4 million (Dh14.69m) business plan that includes the possibility of franchise agreements in other regional markets.

British newspapers roll off the printing press at the new press at Atlas Printers in Dubai yesterday.
British newspapers roll off the printing press at the new press at Atlas Printers in Dubai yesterday.

A media company based in Dubai plans to print up to 12 international newspapers in the UAE as part of a US$4 million (Dh14.69m) business plan that includes the possibility of franchise agreements in other regional markets. Atlas Media Communications started printing British titles the Daily Mail, Daily Star and Daily Express on May 18, the first time these titles had been available in the UAE on the day of publication.

The Mail on Sunday and USA Today will also be printed locally in the coming weeks. "Up until now, all the international newspapers coming into the UAE were flown in by air," said Amit Radia, the chief executive of Atlas Media Communications. The company plans to start printing more European titles, plus newspapers from the US, Far East, Australia and South Africa as part of a deal with the content distribution company NewspaperDirect.

Under the terms of the licence, Atlas Media has the rights to print NewspaperDirect titles across the GCC and in east Africa. Under local laws the company is not allowed to change any content, except as required by law, or sell advertising in the newspapers it republishes in the UAE. He said each of the newspapers required a licence from the UAE Government. "We had to get the approval from the National Media Council. It took two months. There are a lot of regulations you have to follow.

"We are in the process of obtaining National Media Council approval for five more titles. Hopefully we'll get that within the next few weeks." Mr Radia said the newspapers would be sold in about 300 UAE outlets, including Spinney's, Carrefour and Dubai Duty Free, distributed by Jashanmal and Tawseel. Print runs will be low. Between 650 and 700 copies of the Daily Mail will be printed, and 250 copies each of the Express and the Star.

"We will offer bulk drops later on," said Mr Radia, referring to multiple copies sent to the likes of banks, airlines and hotels. He said it was "too early" to talk about the margin on each copy but admitted this was not a high-profit business model. "It's not going to make me a millionaire but it's a steady business," Mr Radia said, adding that his $4m investment included €2.2m (Dh9.9m) for a high-speed printing system, which can be used for other purposes.

"People said 'you're nuts - newspapers are dying'. And I said 'no they're not'. These newspapers are more entertainment titles," he said. "And the UAE is unique in that there is a huge range of nationalities here, and a huge holiday traffic. So a wider range of short-run newspapers makes sense. "This model allows you more personalisation [of newspapers], it reduces lead times, and helps you cope with market demand, instead of being stuck with half a million copies a day ."

But media commentators were not convinced. Professor George Brock, the head of journalism at City University London, said it would be hard to make back the initial investment. "You have to assume that, if they are truly investing $4m, they're going to expand the circulation or the number of titles over time, because you'd never make any money if you were only shifting a couple of thousand copies. In fact you'd make a whacking loss," said Prof Brock.

"I'm very strongly in favour of increasing the choice and number of newspapers but people have been trying variants of this idea for the past 10 to 15 years and yet, so far, nobody has made significant progress in turning it into a properly functioning business." Ali Jaber, the dean of the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Communications at the American University of Dubai, and a consultant to the TV and publishing group Dubai Media Incorporated, said he did not think the business model was sustainable.

"Printing 250 copies of a newspaper is, I think, silly," Mr Jaber said. "You can sell them all but what kind of pricing and advertising attraction do you have? All the newspapers in the Arab world lose money … and sales are diminishing at a terrifying rate." @Email:bflanagan@thenational.ae