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Magazines: crisis or correction?

Magazines: crisis or correction?

Periodical publishers in the Middle East talk about how hard they have been hit by the credit crunch, and what they are doing to cope.

March 19, 2009 9:23 by

With the end of 2009’s first quarter fast approaching, we’ve heard the words “credit,” “crunch,” and “crisis” ad nauseum. The rumor mill is churning and speculation within the region’s media industry is playing out like a game of Chinese whispers. As ad revenues plummet, Dubai’s magazine publishing industry is in the eye of the hearsay storm.

With gossip ranging from job cuts to pay freezes, publication postponements to restructuring, Communicate spoke to some of Dubai’s best-known publishers about the rumors to give them a chance to set the record straight. (In the interests of objectivity, we elected not to speak to Mediaquest, the publishing house behind this magazine. Besides, talking to yourself is weird.)

Up until the end of 2008, fortune – mostly – favored Dubai’s magazine industry. In October, Motivate relaunched Campaign, and then introduced Golf Digest in November. Prior to that, The Media Factory launched football title FourFourTwo in August. Motivate’s announcement of the launch of Men’s Health was followed by ITP’s launch of Men’s Fitness in December.

By the end of 2008, cracks were showing. The usually reticent management at ITP spoke up at the launch of Men’s Fitness in December. “Growth is slowing dramatically, but there is still growth,” ITP’s managing director Robert Seraphin told The National newspaper.

In the same month, ITP’s Business Publishing division released a statement announcing two of its titles would be closed down. Both Medical Times and Middle East Dentist were discontinued in January 2009. The publisher maintained that the move would “result in no job losses, but allows the company to focus its resources on new projects, launches and market opportunities it feels are appropriate to prevailing market conditions.”

The vitriolic – and often apocryphal – Dubai Media Observer blog reported rumors of a pay freeze at ITP in January, and gossip about the company was mixed; alleged plans to open offices in Abu Dhabi and expand to India seemed at odds with reports of job cuts. ITP is one of Dubai’s biggest publishing houses and probably the one surrounded by most speculation. The company says the deaths of at least two magazines (a retail title and Boat Owner Middle East) have been greatly exaggerated. “I can confirm that they are still operational,” says an ITP spokeswoman.

“ITP continues to maintain a strong, vibrant regional publishing, events and Internet business in the Middle East and Indian markets,” says a statement from the company. “Today’s market reflects a number of changed priorities and market conditions that bring new challenges but also, ultimately, new opportunities. The company is refining its operations to ensure that it continues to meet market needs and provide value to the organizations and people it serves, and remains committed to providing media that lead the way.”

In late February, however, ITP did confirm that 60 employees were made redundant after a number of publications were closed or suspended.

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