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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

Not everyone is tightening their belts. Saudi-based publishing house Saudi Research and Publishing Company (SRPC) – the company behind Asharq Alawsat and Arab News, and Sayidati magazine among others – says it is even hiring in some divisions. “We never over-recruited in the past, so we didn’t have much employment ‘fat’ to start with,” says Ahmed Al Sudace, assistant managing director of SRPC. “We are freezing recruitment in some areas, but we are recruiting in sales and customer services. We see 2009 as an opportunity to get the best out of our people.”

Al Sudace adds that the 40-year-old publishing house might have missed some opportunities in the past due to a “careful” approach, but their cautious strategy is now paying off. “Our specialized company [Saudi Specialized Publishing Company] launched two titles recently: Domus, which is specialized in modern architecture, interior design, design and art; and Madame Figaro, a French women’s magazine published in Arabic. The market still needs quality, innovative mediums, and we are going to supply that. I think 2009 will witness the vanishing of many obscure titles simply because they lack the backbone to support themselves during hard times.”

One publisher that might feel its sole periodical falls into that category is Brownbook Publishing. A relative newcomer to the magazine publishing industry, it has been putting out brownbook magazine every two months for the past two years. The eclectic, artsy lifestyle title seems to be weathering the storm, says editorial director Zaina Adhami. As an independent publisher, she says, Brownbook hasn’t felt the wrath of the crisis. “It still hasn’t affected us. We have set very good relationships with the advertising market. Du and Nakheel are helping us to develop more and more.” Although real estate companies are slashing their advertising spend, she doesn’t seem too anxious about losing Nakheel.

While she admits that the crisis is “a bit scary,” Adhami says that Brownbook Publishing plans to expand in 2009. “We want to develop Middle Eastern city guides. We’ll have awards, and we will try to introduce publishing books. The crisis hasn’t halted or postponed our plans; everything is fine.” Brownbook still prints 10,000 copies, she says, for circulation mainly in the UAE, but also in Beirut, Damascus, Istanbul, New York and European cities.

Industry veterans maintain that 2009 will be difficult for magazine publishing. Motivate’s Fairservice says, “It is going to be a tough year for media, but as we embark on our 30th anniversary year, we remain optimistic that properly established, reliable and, essentially, audited magazines will continue to do well.”

Shaw says TMF is no different from other publishers in the region in the issues it will face in 2009 – namely budgetary ones. He believes the crisis could give a healthy shake-up to the industry. “There are far too many poor magazines published in the region, and current market conditions will expose the weaker titles,” says Shaw. “This paves the way for existing advertising budgets to be spread over fewer vehicles, which is good news for those that are still in business.”

First seen in Communicate.

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