Newsletter No 29 23 May 2006
 
Printing & Distribution:
A Printing Press Guarantees Independence but Requires Money

The Yemen Times is one of the most independent newspapers in its country. Still, printing in state-owned facilities was a challenge to both the independence and quality of the paper. To overcome these obstacles, the bi-weekly decided to acquire its own printing press. It was a critical bet in terms of finances.

“The publication of the Yemen Times was under the mercy of external offset printers who could at any time decline to print the newspaper for any reason,” says editor-in-chief and publisher Nadia Al Sakkaf about when the newspaper used to be printed at the Moral Guidance Division of the army. The paper could not control the quality, and problems with color separation or blurred images would refrain advertisers from buying space, she says.

In 2002, the Yemen Times was threatened by closure because of pressure from printers, a drop in advertising budgets and higher costs for raw materials. But instead of closing down, the newspaper decided to acquire its own printing press. This happened in 2003, facilitated by credit facilities.

“The newspaper management started thinking of new means for the newspaper to remain a financially independent establishment that would be able to survive and maintain its identity,” Al Sakkaf says.

Today, although the new press has allowed the newspaper to maintain its editorial independence, its main concern is paying the loan for the press. In addition to the loan, the new press entailed new expenses such as the due insurance. Moreover, the Yemen Times had to hire a full team of technicians to operate the machines. To balance its finances the newspaper undertook several new initiatives.

The first was to reduce fixed expenses, by cutting staff and relying more on freelancers and stringers.

It also reduced the number of pages from twenty to sixteen, which led to a saving of twenty percent in raw materials. The biggest challenge was to maintain the newspaper quality and not shocking the readers while reducing content. For instance, the international section was eliminated since the newspaper is not a source of international breaking news for its readers, Al Sakkaf explains.

Sections that were published in the two bi-weekly editions would now be published once a week, carrying more content, while other sections became monthly editions. With regards to advertising, the newspaper management made sure that the eliminated pages were among those that never carried ads.

The newspaper also started implementing a new editorial strategy by issuing special editions and supplements. “Having our own offset printer has encouraged us to do this more often,” says Al Sakkaf. “These supplements are means of promoting the newspaper and diversifying our production as well as reaching out to more readers.”

They have also proved a good marketing tool. “If we do a supplement on banking, for instance, we approach every bank in the country to make them advertise. And usually there is more advertising in the supplements than in the weekly editions,” Al Sakkaf says.

Having its own press also allowed the newspaper to increase its print-run from 13,000 to 15,000 weekly copies and reach new regions. “By doing so, we increase our reach and enter new advertising markets”, she says.

The Yemen Times is also printing three other Yemeni newspapers as well as books, posters and other commercial products. “So far, we only manage to partially cover our expenses through this, especially since the publication market in Yemen is still a budding one,” says Al Sakkaf. She estimates that the printing activities represent ten percent of the newspaper’s global revenue.

The newspaper has maintained its financial balance thanks to all these initiatives, but it is still using forty percent of its advertising revenue to pay the loan. Since it will be fully paid next year, benefits will be used for new projects, Al Sakkaf says. Nevertheless, the first goal has been accomplished.

“The Yemen Times remains an independent newspaper whose mission is to report the truth neutrally and to defend democracy, freedoms and human rights,” says Al Sakkaf.