It’s started. The first major paper in the Gulf has shifted to digital only. Last week, the English-language daily Saudi Gazette announced that it’d be printing a paper copy for the last time. You can see the full announcement here. I’m also quoting from the article.
This is the last hard copy of your favorite newspaper.
No, this is not a requiem for Saudi Gazette. We are not saying Adieu.
We are greeting you with “Hello tomorrow!”
This, in fact, is a new dawn for the newspaper.
Change is the law of nature. Those who do not keep pace with change lag behind.
The newspaper industry has also undergone a sea change in recent years. News no longer breaks on the pages of newspapers.
The reading habits of readers have also changed. They scan headlines on the go and read what interests them at the time and place of their convenience.
While journalism will not die, print is definitely in its death throes. Many big banner newspapers have ceased publication.
In the US more than 500 local newspapers closed between 2004 and 2019. In the UK, some 245 newspapers have ceased publication since 2005. In Canada some 27 dailies have stopped printing.
These include big names like The Independent, The News of the World to name a few.
So in keeping with the times, Saudi Gazette too is going totally digital. This will give us a better and faster platform to keep you abreast of the developments taking place around you and around the world.
We are no longer restricted by column length and width. Now the canvas is wide open.
As we focus on digital dissemination of news, we assure you of exclusive quality content.
The references to Western media who have gone online only are, to me at least, misleading. We’re in a different market, where advertisers are spending less online than their counterparts in the UK or the US. Consumers here are increasingly wanting digital offerings, but they’re not paying for these services, unlike papers such as The Times or the Washington Post. And would the region’s readers pay for the content that the local papers are producing?
For the majority of newspaper publishers in the Gulf, print still makes up the majority of their revenues. And print matters as well when it comes to recognition. No self-deserving publisher in the Gulf would forego print if they had the choice (there’s long been talk of that number of UAE-based publications would go digital only).
I wonder who is next. Now that the Saudi Gazette’s publisher Okaz has crossed the Rubicon of announcing that they’re dropping print, who will be the next print to go online only. And what will this mean for their editorial. If a Gulf newspaper can’t make ends meet with a paper edition, there’s no way they can afford the same editorial staff with digital-only sales offerings.
My feeling is that this also reflects the views of certain individuals in government, who want to invest primarily in a single publication as a means to get their message out. While there’s still plenty of money which is being invested in publishing by these individuals, there’s less interest in media plurality. It’s neither helpful to promoting certain narratives, nor is it lucrative.
What does it mean for the PR industry? At its best, more focus on improving online media outlets, including more accurate numbers when it comes to readership and reach. At its worst, it means fewer journalists to work with as online-only publications slim down and focus on translating news from Arabic to English and vice-versa.
I love the Saudi Gazette, and I’ve worked with many of its staff. I hope that they are able to find a way to thrive in this new environment, both editorially and financially. As for the rest of the media industry, expect more digital-only announcements sooner rather than later.