From The National (UAE)
by Hassan Hassan
ABU DHABI // Arabic-language online media outlets are burgeoning, but still have little advertising revenue compared with their print counterparts, says a report by the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR).
The report, published in the latest issue of the centre’s Future Horizons magazine, argued that Arabic-language print media lacked quality, but continued to thrive because advertising buyers had not been persuaded of the value of online ads.
Most print media persisted because in addition to advertising, many publications also received funding from individuals, businesses or governments, it said.
If advertising buyers turned to online media, print media would be in “great danger”.
“Print media is suffering a crisis with their readers for failing to adapt to the constant developments,” said Othman al Umair, the owner of Elaph, one of the first Arabic-language electronic newspapers, which was established in May 2001.
Mr al Umair said the print sector was “trying hard to produce good-looking papers, yet with [poor-quality] news or information, while [electronic media] is succeeding in bringing high-quality news and information directly to the reader”.
The Arab Media Outlook from the Dubai Press Club and the consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers said that internet advertising revenue in the UAE was expected to grow by 9 per cent a year between 2006 and 2012, while advertising was expected to grow 13 per cent a year at magazines and 16 per cent a year for newspapers in the Emirates.
Online advertising in the Middle East comprised less than 1 per cent of total advertising spending in 2007, the outlook said. In the UAE, print media accounted for 88 per cent of total advertising spending in 2007.
The ECSSR report noted that the continued publication of some Arabic-language newspapers was not an indication of their profitability. When an Arabic-language newspaper stopped publishing, it said, it often did so for political reasons rather than financial ones.
Ghassan Habbal, a researcher at the ECSSR and one of the authors of the report, offered the example of Al Safir, a Lebanese newspaper. The paper’s peak sales are about 10,000 copies, but it attracts about four times the advertising revenue of a website with more than 50,000 readers.
In general, a high-traffic website can expect to recoup about 2 per cent of its costs through advertising, the report said.
Muaffaq Harb, a media expert, said the value of the internet for the advertising community was demographics. Websites can easily collect data on readers, which are valuable for advertisers who want to make sure that their messages reach a specific group.
“Advertising is a decisive factor that would make up for the lack of subscription fees,” he said. “Fees are necessary for specialised websites and newspapers, not the general ones.”
Mr al Umair said the challenges to print media included a greater tolerance for free speech online compared to print.
Mr Harb agreed that the future of electronic media versus print depended on two issues: freedom of expression and advertising. “There’s no doubt electronic media is safeguarding freedom of expression for any individual who tries to express his or her views.”
He said, however, that the ease of online publishing often chipped away at journalism standards, a fact that was difficult for the public to recognise.
“People would lose the ability to differentiate between good and bad and here lies the problem with the internet,” he said. “The way to avoid that is to comply with highest journalism standards.”
The growth of electronic media would not lead to the disappearance of print media, he said. “It is too soon to speak of the destruction of newspapers.”
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