The London-based pan-Arab daily Al Hayat says it has increased circulation in Saudi Arabia from 20,000 to 190,000 daily (140,000 subscribers). The newspaper says it is the result of focusing on local news through three different editions published in the kingdom.
“Al Hayat realized that international news had found its place in the new satellite televisions and, therefore, decided to look for new readers by focusing on local news. We had also observed that the big UK papers were devoting more and more space to local news,” says Mohammad Ali Farhat, managing director of the Al Hayat’s Saudi editions.
Published in London and distributed through the Arab world as well as among the Arab diaspora, the daily could not change its content. So it decided to launch a local edition in Saudi Arabia. The first issue was published on 3 January 2005.
“Al Hayat was looking for a country with a large potential readership and where foreign outlets would be allowed to publish local publications. Those are the reasons why we decided to try a first experience in Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, the Saudi market keeps growing and attracting advertisers,” says Farhat.
While studying the project, Al Hayat realized that a single local edition would not be enough to reach every reader in a country where both the press and the advertising market are segmented regionally.
Three different editions were launched to cover the kingdom: one in the capital, Al Riyadh (center); one in Jeddah (West); and one in Al-Dammam (East). “The three of them include the international content of the London edition and share at least two pages with Saudi issues while each of them has a minimum of two pages devoted two very local news,” says Farhat.
“Another reason for success was the fact of giving local news the same category as national or international. Another pan-Arab daily established in Saudi Arabia published local news in a supplement called ‘Mahaliyat’. It was a bad initiative from a psychological point of view since it places local issues in a different level,” says Farhat.
Another reason for success has been how the daily deals with news. “The fast spread of Al Hayat Saudi edition is linked to the quality of the journalistic work with stories and short investigative features completed by pictures,” says Farhat. “It challenged the Saudi traditional journalism that has always limited itself to cover the political and socio-economic elites.”
That is why the paper decided to hire a team of new graduates from Saudi universities who were trained by Al Hayat editors from London and Beirut. “We decided not to hire experienced Saudi journalists to avoid that kind of bad habits spread among certain journalistic circles in the country,” says Farhat.
Al Hayat offered advertisers low prices during the first three months before raising them top market rates. However, it was the reach of the paper that had the most positive effects in attracting advertising revenues.
“Having three local editions and being an international daily at the same time allows Al Hayat to attract a wide range of advertisers, from very local to international,” says Farhat.