Newsletter No 21 07 March 2006
Online Publishing:
MEPC: Online Publishing

How do you re-invent a classical market like publishing when it is growing too fast to track? This was the question Ahmed Al Mansoori, Chairman of the Second Middle East Publishers Conference, Dubai Consultancy, Research and Media Centre, asked and answered in the opening session. There are several ways that publications can and must re-invent themselves, pushed by technological advances, changing markets and the desire of readers for interactivity through online initiatives.

“Re-inventing the Middle East Publishing Market” was the title of the Second Middle East Publishers Conference that was held in Dubai on 5-6 March to examine the ongoing growth of the Middle East publishing industry and focus on the practical issues facing publishers reinventing this dynamic market. The only regional industry event of this scope, MEPC was organized by Dubai Consultancy, Research and Media Centre (DCRMC) in collaboration with the two largest publishing associations, the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and the International Federation of the Periodical Press (FIPP).

Don Kummerfeld, President and CEO of FIPP, said during the "Digital Strategies for Publishers in the Middle East" that print media have an advantage over others in the electronic media arena: their brands.

"I believe that consumers are increasingly thinking about media not as discrete prepackaged products to be consumed but rather as branded destinations to be visited to get whatever information or entertainment or interactivity the destination offers," he said.

"I also believe that we have great advantages over other media destination providers in constructing successful branded destinations, since we already have trusted brands that are meaningful in terms of credible content and quality," he said.

However, Kummerfeld said, publishers should not neglect print because people will continue to get enjoyment from holding and reading beautiful, very tangible print magazines and newspapers for many years to come.

Publishers could also hear some ideas to increase their revenues online

Google must pay!
Search engine companies and news aggregators should be paying for the content they are now taking from newspaper websites for free, and the newspaper industry is waking up to the profound impact these practices can have on their businesses, said Larry Kilman, director of Communications for WAN.

There is no doubt that search engines do provide benefit to newspapers in terms of the traffic they generate. The problem lies in the fact that these companies are using the content they collect to build advertising-financed sites that compete directly with the news sites of traditional publishers -- "and they are using the publishers very own content to do so," he said.

"There is a concept that has grown up around the internet that 'information should be free.' And while that has a nice sound to it, it ignores the reality of producing quality information. Even if Google is only taking a headline and one paragraph, it's the tip of the iceberg -- that lead paragraph wouldn't exist without the rest of the story, which took time and effort and investment. Why should Google benefit if they haven't contributed to the creation of this content?

Mr Kilman described a new WAN initiative, involving international organizations representing newspapers, magazines and book publishers, to seek recompense for the content taken by the search engine companies. A task force including these organizations was formed in January to explore ways to challenge the exploitation of content by search engine companies without fair compensation to copyright holders.

Online syndication
Mark Gatty Saunt, Content Sales Director, Al Bawaba, UAE, focused his presentation on various ways in which both offline and online publishers can create additional revenue streams from their content through online syndication and licensing.

Al Bawaba is one of the largest digital news content providers in the Middle East and North Africa, and it provides paid-for news content feeds to many sources -- online news aggregators, websites and online publications, and international organizations.

Mr Saunt covered what kind of content is valuable for syndication, payment models, and the value that content providers receive from syndication. In addition to incremental revenue, syndication provides increased distribution and brand awareness.

Payment models include a percentage share of the net revenue received through the sales of content through aggregators and syndicates, sometimes with a minimum guarantee, and fixed fees from websites and other media.

Suitable content includes news, features and columns; photographs and video; fresh, regular and original content; content that is trustworthy and from an established brand; and English and Arabic language content.

Print media confront online challenge
The workshop on ‘Classified migrating online – threats and opportunities to printed newspapers’ heard that online advertising was predicted to take 10 per cent of the classified market by 2008.

"That’s according to one specific study, and we suspect it could be a lot more,” said Eamonn Byrne, business director of the World Association of Newspapers, pointing out that internet advertising revenues grew by 32 per cent last year while total market growth was only five per cent.  

WAN’s own survey covering 40 countries showed that online now accounts for 7.5 per cent of all classified revenue, with recruitment alone up 27 per cent in 2005.

Although circulations were up by three per cent, total revenues by three percent, and total advertising by five percent, the contribution from classifieds fell by 10 per cent.

"The trend may be slow but it’s unmistakable, and newspapers cannot sit back and ignore the problem or they will find that it’s overtaken them,” said Byrne.

“If you’ve been used to carrying 25 pages of job advertising at twice the display rate, and that suddenly drops to 10 pages, you must find new niches and develop new revenue streams,” he said.