Has the MENA print industry hit crisis point?

Bedouin, Arabian Desert, Saudi Arabia (Photo by Marka/UIG via Getty Images)

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With job cuts and restructuring well underway, print publications become the first casualties of the 2016 economic downturn

For the past two months, much of the talk on our pages has been centred on the pressures and turmoil in a not-too-distant but still-far-enough-away future.

Yet what seems to have slipped under the radar is that, for some, the bottom has and is already falling out within the Middle East and North Africa’s print industry.

Campaign has learnt that around 50 jobs have been cut at Gulf News and GN broadcasting radio stations; these are understood to have hit the editorial department, though in the latter senior managers and programming are among the worst hit. At ITP, sources have quoted various redundancy figures, with the company’s subsidiary APP and its consumer titles understood to be those hit the hardest. Both declined to give official comment when approached by Campaign.

So are these signs the media industry – in particular print – has hit crisis point?

According to Dina Medhat, media director at Initiative, this has been a long time coming. “Print media has witnessed a severe decline during the past five years,” she says. “The decrease in consumer spend on magazines has led to a number of publications either shutting down entirely or switching to a digital format. Newspapers are struggling with their circulation figures because news by its nature is inherently dynamic. With the print format a static one, readers in the digital age are less-and-less inclined to wait for the next day’s publication to keep up with events. As 60 per cent of the population is under the age of 30 and digitally-savvy, the print format will continue to decline.”

However, it’s not all doom and gloom according to Lama Al Khawaja, associate media director at Mediavest. She says: “Print is still heavily consumed; it’s just consumed differently than other media. It offers a different experience for readers and plays a different role for brands. It is a tangible medium, which is especially important in the MENA region, as it provides an element of credibility and legitimacy, as well as in-depth, informative content, which not all media offers. Recent studies on luxury have shown that print continues to rank among the top drivers of a brand’s awareness, particularly in Saudi Arabia.”

She adds: “Nevertheless there is no doubt print will enjoy a lower share of ad spend with the growth in consumer time spent online.”

Tamanna Moolchandani, business unit director at MEC, is only slightly optimistic, saying: “Due to the rise of the digital age, as the millennial generation like to refer to it, print media is definitely suffering, globally and in the region. With the upsurge of youth in the region and subsequently, smartphones, they’re the source of instant news at your fingertips. Nonetheless, there will always be an older more receptive audience to print. The baby boomers swear by it and it wouldn’t do so without reason. So, as much as the rise of digital media is trending, print media will always have its charm to the slightly more mature audience.”

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