The Future of the Print Media

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Muhammad Salahuddin, Al-Madinah

Published — Sunday 5 October 2003

Last Update 5 October 2003 3:00 am

Two different reports related to the media were featured in last week’s local news. The first was a SR400 million five-year deal between Al-Watan newspaper and Saudi Distribution Co. under which the latter will distribute the paper locally.

The other report dealt with the financial difficulties facing Al-Bilad and Al-Nadwa, two of the Kingdom’s oldest newspapers. The situation at Al-Nadwa has reached a point where the paper has been unable for several months to pay its employees’ salaries.

These two bits of news should serve as an eye-opener, telling us something on the present and future of print journalism in this country. While the first report should motivate others to review their policies regarding editorials and marketing, it also raises other questions that need to be answered.

Al-Watan has guaranteed itself financial stability for the coming five years. Counting on the paper’s ability to compete in the market, the distribution company acted from strong confidence in its technical and marketing capabilities.

The principal question has to do with the size of readership enjoyed by the print media and what the future of that readership is. Will it shrink in the face of competition from satellite television? Or will it expand because of new professional publications and old ones putting on new clothes? In other words, will the increased distribution of any particular newspaper come at the expense of others who will see their readership shrink? Or will that paper seek to increase its circulation by attracting new readers without affecting the distribution of others?

The answer lies with the newspapers and distribution companies themselves who possess the exact figures on distribution, subscription and sales.

If newspaper publishers do not quickly move to view the situation from all angles as the world grapples to keep pace with rapidly developing and changing technology, they may wake up one day to find themselves faced with an unexpected and unpleasant situation.

The five-year distribution deal will lead to people focusing more on the financial crisis plaguing those two newspapers. It is worth noting that this happens at a time when the proceeds from investing in the media are considered to be higher than in any other business. Why then are the rich in this country reluctant to come to the rescue of the two newspapers?

— Arab News Local Press 5 October 2003

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