By Ben Flanagan
22 May, 2014
NEWSPAPERS in the Arab world are to become ‘extinct’ earlier than forecast due to the rapid rise of social media in the region, according to a key researcher.
Author Ross Dawson, who in 2010 published a ‘newspaper extinction timeline’, says he is revising his predictions of when printed papers will no longer be significant in the Arab world.
He originally forecast that newspapers would be ‘extinct’ in the UAE by 2028, and in Saudi Arabia by 2034.
But that could happen much earlier, Dawson said on the sidelines of the Arab Media Forum in Dubai.
“Given the pace of uptake of the internet and social media in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, it suggests that those dates should be revised,” he said. “It could be quite a few years earlier.”
Use of social media is extremely high in the developed Gulf Arab nations. Saudi Arabia has the world’s highest per-capita consumption of YouTube videos, while Twitter and Facebook use is also high.
This is a key reason behind Dawson’s decision to revise his forecasts. “In the developed Arab nations, there is a very high degree of uptake of alternatives to news on paper, suggesting an earlier extinction.”
Newspapers in Qatar could die out even earlier than in the UAE, he added. In the US, newspapers are expected to die out in 2017 or before, according to the forecast Dawson made four years ago.
Newspapers are classed as “extinct” when they attract less than 2.5 percent of total advertising revenues, under Dawson’s definition.
“You’re not going to see a lot of them about, and when you do see them they’re not really going to be significant,” he said.
Factors that could sustain the growth of printed newspapers in Saudi Arabia and the UAE include the high immigrant populations and the government funding of the media, he added.
“One of the places where newspapers will remain in these countries will be as specialist newspapers for those immigrant communities,” he said. “And governments may either directly or indirectly support the publishing of newspapers because they believe it supports a social or political purpose.”
Despite Dawson’s predictions, newspapers continue to attract a relatively high proportion of advertising spending in the Arab world. Spending on digital media has not overtaken print as in some other markets.
Yet even seasoned newspaper journalists were resigned to the possibility of the printed product dying out.
Khaled Almaeena, editor-at-large of the Saudi Gazette, said he broadly agreed with Dawson’s predictions.
“I can see newspapers that were selling 140,000 [copies] down to about 40,000 to 45,000 in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region.”
He attributed the drop to trends among young people and the cost of printing and distributing newspapers.