DUBAI: Publishers in the Arab world unveiled the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their industry during a virtual conference on Tuesday.
During a roundtable entitled “News media after print?”, as part of the Media Leaders eSummit, they analyzed how the health crisis has changed the situation for publishers in the Middle East.
Abdulsalam Haykal, Chairman of Majarra in the United Arab Emirates, mentioned several ways in which changes to media content were brought about.
“It forced people into loneliness,” he said. “So this new mindset and ‘work from home’ framework has elevated tech into a partner. It was a strategic tool that we used, but now it is a partner that we rely on and depend on, so life now passes through technologies.
This shift has also resulted in a new need for instant information and knowledge among consumers. For Haykal, a collaborative approach has emerged to fight the pandemic, with a need to understand their role in this approach.
“We wanted to know how others were dealing with it, the skills and the tools, and learn as we lived it,” he said.
COVID-19 has also presented the case for faster adoption of online business models that have given way to further upgrades in technology infrastructure, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and introduced new practices such as the subscription business model.
According to Haykal, these combined elements present a golden opportunity for publishers in the region to move towards subscription models.
However, he added that any move in this direction will require a high degree of trust between publisher and consumer.
“Trust in our business is having reliable information, knowledge and news, having a user experience so people can navigate that knowledge and information smoothly and consistently,” he said. -he declares.
“(There) is a need for us as publishers and creators of content to elevate our own content and user experience to this level as well.”
He said news is a commodity around the world and many publishers are looking to go beyond news and empower consumers to understand what it means to their lives, giving consumers the full experience in online news and analysis through the brand’s association with different organizations.
“The challenge is that people compare us to any app where they have a better experience,” he said.
“The expectations of the online world are much higher. It’s a chance for every publisher, in the particular region, to make that leap into what is almost white space.
Mohamad K Alayyan, president and publisher of Al-Ghad newspaper in Jordan, said the modern world is a village where “everything is available” and comparison has become easy for consumers. This challenge, he added, has forced publishers to step up their game.
“COVID-19’s wake-up call is that print is no longer paying the bills, it can no longer support us and help us thrive in this industry,” Alyayyan said.
“But what helps us is having a brand known for good quality content. Either way, the need for quality content remains strong – people want good quality content and that’s where the starting point should be.
Using good quality content and brands will help organizations overcome any technological disruption.
Said Alyayyan’s newspaper currently has a plan in place for such a transformation by diversifying its revenue through advertising and television.
“It’s only to make up for the newspaper’s loss of revenue,” he said. “Then we went online and joined former publishers in Jordan to sell advertising online. After getting as little damage as possible in what COVID-19 has done to newspaper revenue, we now need to consider what paywall we should do.
The group is looking at where its data can help advise on reader preferences. This review, he believes, will lay the groundwork for the starting point of a paywall.
For Ahmad Al-Hammadi, CEO of the Press Sector at Dubai Media Incorporated in the United Arab Emirates, the link between COVID-19 and the media is very complicated, as the pandemic has changed the entire media industry, as well as its behaviors and products.
“Three or four years ago we were saying that one day the newspaper would disappear and what would we do and take the next step in technology,” he said.
“The question was there, and we were not acting. Suddenly, COVID-19 came to us, and we said to ourselves that we have to live the experience, even if you don’t succeed.
DMI halted newspaper printing during the pandemic, after more than 40 years in the market. Although they encountered some difficulties, the DMI team believed that they could take the next step and manage on their own.
“But the revenue was totally dead,” Al-Hammadi said. “You can’t compare revenue, which is the fuel of the business. Our digital platform is by far number one in the market here in our category, but COVID-19 has changed all of our mindsets in the business.
He however said that digital revenues in the region were not at the level publishers were looking for, adding that some of the difficulties the market was facing were people’s mindset, media training centers that lacked maturity, lack of editors and insufficient income.
For Al-Hammadi, paid content is necessary for success and the group is currently following this path.
“All these obstacles are there, and people are trying to change,” he said.
“The industry is mature enough; we need to have a plan and not blame ourselves or each other. We have to try to solve the formula – everyone is trying, people are on the right track if they believe digital is yesterday, not the future.