Manama: Newspapers in Bahrain are grappling with one of the worst advertising slumps in their history and tough measures might be required unless the economy revives, a leading publisher has warned.
Editor-in-Chief of the GDN’s Arabic sister paper Akhbar Al Khaleej, Anwar Abdulrahman, said a massive drop in government advertising spending was a major factor.
He revealed government spending on advertising had almost halved this year.
“What has compounded problems for print media is that government bodies and ministries also stopped advertising,” he said.
“In fact, from January to November this year their advertising spend has reduced by 47 per cent.”
Speaking at an International Advertising Association Bahrain Chapter business lunch yesterday, he said the easiest thing for a publisher facing tough market conditions was to downsize – by cutting the number of pages and retrenching staff.
However, he told participants at the Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay: “We don’t want to do that till we are left with no choice.”
In his address, Mr Abdulrahman said a major constraint for Bahrain’s print media was unreasonable demands to cover government ministries and events.
“Ministries one after another have been complaining that a particular photo was single column when it should have been two columns and so on,” he said.
However, he added this continued despite the government cancelling advertising.
“They interfere in our business without even giving us our fees. How can we continue to give this service?” he asked.
“Newspapers are not linked with any embassy, government or ideological institution or political parties and we don’t get any donation from anywhere.
“Our balance sheet is very clear. The question then is how can we continue?”
Mr Abdulrahman highlighted that the Bahraini Press was not alone in facing a difficult climate, with more than 400 publications ceasing publication in the US alone over the past 15 years – plus many more around the world.
“I’m not here to blame electronic media or new media, but it is a fact that fewer and fewer people rely on newspapers to obtain information,” he said.
“In this fast-moving world, you can get news minute after minute.”
He revealed Akhbar Al Khaleej data indicated a drop in the number of pages printed in five Arabic newspapers in Bahrain, from 3314.4 between January and November last year.
“For the same period this year the number of pages has come down by 231.54, or 7.5pc, to 3082.86,” he said, pointing out that during the same period advertising companies’ input worldwide had reduced by 5.9pc.
However, Mr Abdulrahman said he was not pessimistic about the future.
“We have seen tough times before,” he said.
“In 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, we saw how everything went down – we had to reduce the number of pages from 16 and 20 to eight pages with zero income, but we carried on day after day.
“Also in 2003, when the US invaded Iraq, the first thing that was cut was advertising.”
He suggested closer co-operation between all stakeholders to ensure survival of the sector.
“What I do know is that the advertising companies and publishing houses need to work as partners more than ever before,” he said.
“We (publishers) cannot survive without you (advertising companies) and you cannot earn without us. It’s time to work as a team.”
IAA Bahrain Chapter president Khamis Al Muqla, who hosted the event, told the GDN advertising spend in Bahrain during the first nine months of this year had declined by about 10pc to 11pc from last year.
He added this was the case with other GCC markets, mainly due to the oil price slump.
Mr Al Muqla said the outlook for next year was not optimistic and challenging times were ahead.
“The industry has changed and therefore business models need to change,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Al Muqla urged IAA members to participate in the 44th IAA World Congress being held in Abu Dhabi from March 21 to March 23.
Plans to hold a Best Bahraini Brand Awards next February were also announced, while participants at the lunch also commemorated Bahrain’s National Day.
More than 100 people from the advertising and marketing communications industry including agencies, media and other related fields attended.