Jeddah-Based Newspaper Saudi Gazette Goes Digital Only, Draws Mixed Emotions

DESPARDES News Monitor – Building resilience in the print media sector of Middle East’s transformative economy through adaptation and corporate governance appears to be the mantra some say, not all.

In a first, the Jeddah-based English language daily newspaper Saudi Gazette (SG) announced it has stopped daily print-run and will now remain purely digital, drawing mixed emotions.

The SG strategic decision comes amid reports that the circulation of general and business daily newspapers in MENA has been more resilient than in the West. The region’s share of the total advertising market remains significant at 32 percent (according to Mideast Media), which is two to three times higher than in North America, Europe, and other regions.

The paper’s former Editor-in-Chief and Middle East media icon Khaled Almaeena said, “It is really sad. A little restructuring and a fresh initiative would have saved the paper. However, the writing was on the wall, as some board members did not have the fighting spirit. The editorial staff were too advanced and needed a good back up but it was not there And SG lost one of its stars Mahmoud Ahmad and what a loss. I hope they will retain those present who too are among the best”.

“A loss to Saudi journalism,” the former Arab News Chief Editor (for more than a decade) added.

However, on consumer side, some welcomed the decision.

Zafar Bari, an expat in the Kingdom said, “It’s the end of an era for news on paper. With the stupendous growth of internet content, print media will find it nearly impossible to survive. Hence it’s a prudent decision on part of SG to go totally digital.”

Mr. Arshad Munir, Press Attache at Pakistan Consulate Jeddah, welcomed the switch, saying, “Primarily it seems financial reasons. But the change was managed in a professional manner. Digital media has more space for details on a subject. While print has limited space.”

Another expat, Md. Ali Chishty, an ardent reader of news and views on global affairs said, “It’s easier to contribute and more interesting”.

Business consultant and analyst Irshad Salim (contributed regularly to SG during his stint in KSA), said “It was coming as an inevitable change in the riection of wind. But a daily newspaper has its own strength and weaknesses. It’s hard to toggle your priorities between public policy and cost/benefit tradeoff”.

A most recent report by Oxford Business Group (OBG) says the advertising revenues for the print sector in Saudi Arabia and the pan-Arab region is expected to shrink from $358m in 2016 to $253m in 2020, Newspaper revenues are anticipated to fall from $311m to $220m and the magazine advertising market expected to shrink from $47m to $33m during that period.

The OBG report quoted Al Khaleejiah, a subsidiary of the Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG).

“Whereas, digital revenues in Saudi Arabia and pan-Arab media are anticipated to grow 11 percent over those four years, from $246m to $266m,” the report added.

Saudi Arabia now has 660 electronic newspapers compared to 13 print newspapers, according to data revealed by the General Authority for Statistics in January this year.

One of the oldest Arabic daily newspapers Al-Bilad– published from Jeddah, went online with its English edition daily in 2016, anticipating the growing trend in the kingdom and the wider region.

Almost three years later, SG crossed the rubicon, and Arab News has strong presence online.

SG, which began in April 1976 as a 10-page business daily, had later expanded into a broadsheet covering all aspects of news.

The plan to move completely into digital is “in keeping with the times”, since “print is definitely in its death throes”, an editorial said.

Executive editor L. Ramnarayan Iyer called it “a sad day to witness the last print edition” but hoped that Saudi Gazette would continue to reach readers digitally.

The newspaper, which mainly competes with renowned Jeddah-based Arab News, and now has a Pakistan edition, works out of two bureaus in Riyadh and Al-Khobar. It is the sister newspaper of Arabic daily Okaz, one of Saudi Arabia’s leading newspapers.

In 2014, Saudi Gazette appointed the kingdom’s first female editor-in-chief, Somayya Jabarti, who served in the position until September 2018.