Exciting times ahead for Gulf newspaper industry

May 4th, 2008 - 1:31 pm ICT by admin  

By Aroonim Bhuyan
Dubai, May 4 (IANS) A flurry of activity in the print media landscape of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in April has signalled exciting times for the newspaper industry in the region. The month first saw the launch of a brand new broadsheet English daily The National from the capital Abu Dhabi.

This was followed by the launch of the Middle East edition of leading British financial daily The Financial Times and then came news that the Dubai-based Khaleej Times, celebrating its 30th anniversary, has entered into a tie-up with the International Herald Tribune (IHT).

The National, which hit the market April 17, is the fourth broadsheet English daily in the UAE, after the Gulf News and the Khaleej Times, which are published from Dubai, and the Gulf Today, which comes out from Sharjah.

“The role of The National is to reflect society and help that society evolve,” said its editor Martin Newland at the launch function.

He added that the new daily would attempt to inspire a national dialogue, “one that reflects the desires and hopes of those who make a life here and make a contribution to the country”.

Newland is a former editor of London’s Daily Telegraph and a former launch editor of Canada’s National Post.

Launched with a 200-strong team of journalists, the new newspaper aims to fill the void created in the English daily market in the emirate of Abu Dhabi after the Emirates News ceased publication in 1999. The National comes in an 80-page package including a 20-page business section and a 24-page tabloid-sized sports section.

The new daily is an enterprise of the Abu Dhabi Media Corporation (ADMC), a $27.2-million public joint stock company launched in 2007 and wholly owned by the government of the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Even as readers readied themselves for a wider choice in English dailies in this Gulf nation, the financial news sector in the region also got a boost with the Financial Times announcing the launch of its new Middle East edition.

“We have identified a strong and growing demand for high quality, global independent news and analysis across the Gulf region,” Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times, said while announcing the launch.

“This demand reflects how the Gulf has quickly become a financial and business powerhouse and our new edition will cement the region’s place in the global economy.”

Though the regular English dailies of the region do have thick business sections, there is no standalone business newspaper catering to the region of the stature of The Financial Times.

The only other product in the financial dailies market one can see is the Emirates Business 24-7. The tabloid-sized newspaper was launched in December last year as a reinvention of the Dubai-based Arab Media Group’s erstwhile English daily, Emirates Today.

Meanwhile, the Khaleej Times too started its 30th anniversary celebrations in April with a series of programmes including roadshows and exhibitions.

However, the main highlight of the celebrations is the announcement that it has forged a strategic tie-up with New York Times Company (NYTC)-owned Paris-based IHT. According to NYTC vice-chairman Michael Golden, the partnership will see IHT being distributed with the Khaleej Times from May 5.

“This is just the teaser from now until September when we will have new surprises,” Khaleej Times chairman Adel Abdul Aziz Al Shirawi said in a statement.

The IHT currently has similar tie-ups with nine newspapers across the world under which the local affiliate runs the IHT as inserts.

These new launches and tie-ups are but a tip of the iceberg. According to experts, more and more Western publications are looking at Middle East editions in the face of the region’s booming economy fuelled by oil and gas revenues and huge investments in infrastructure.

“There’s a pretty big advertising market here,” the newly-launched The National quoted Austyn Allison, managing editor of advertising and media publication Communicate, as saying.

“The size of regular papers here are the size of Sunday papers elsewhere in the world,” he said.

According to projections of media services agency ZenithOptimedia, the Middle East advertisement market is expected to grow by 54.2 percent between 2007 and 2010. This puts it at third position after Russia (91 percent) and China (61.5 percent).

India is placed at fourth with a growth of 52.2 percent followed by Brazil (46.6 percent) and South Africa (45.8 percent).

According to Spencer Felix, exhibition manager of the annual advertising event Signage, Imaging and Media (SIM), advertising spend in the United Arab Emirates alone increased from $869 million in 2005 to $1.3 billion in 2007, the highest in the Middle East.

“So applying an average 54 percent growth, the UAE will spend well in excess of $2 billion by 2010,” Felix said.

Most of this expenditure - about 64 percent - went to English and Arabic newspapers.

While television got 16 percent of the total spend, magazines got 13 percent, outdoor advertisements received five percent, radio commercials accounted for two percent and one percent went to cinema advertisements.

Which is why it will be exciting to see how the newspaper industry in the region will shape up in the times to come.

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