Daily Newspapers face stiff competition from online media

The suspension of newspaper production once a week in Kuwait has raised a lot of speculation over reasons for this step, and many surmise that it could either be an evaluation of feasibility of overall paper production or the start of a movement towards online copies. Arabic language newspapers Al-Qabas, Al-Rai, Al-Anba and Al-Jarida dailies decided to halt paper production effective from 5 January following a step already undertaken by Arab Times and Kuwait Times for a year.

Journalists reacted to this move, calling it unjust towards readers who have a sentimental attachment to paper copies as they consider it a part of their daily ritual to flip through a physical copy.

Arab and Western newspapers have been affected by digitization of papers in the past decade, including for example the Christian Science Monitor which stopped paper production in 2009 after circulation dropped to 200,000 copies while its digital copy was read by more than a million people.

“This is a 100 percent economic decision aimed at cutting cost,” Waleed Al-Nisf, Al-Qabas Chief Editor said, and the newspapers “agreed there are difficulties in competing against electronic means.” Al-Nisf also attributed the once-a-week production suspension to less “advertisement and the current economic situation,” therefore newspapers decided to stop production for a day as a mean to overcome these troubles.

Al-Nisf, in a statement, said suspension may give newspapers’ workers a time to rest thus ensuring more production while cutting cost. This procedure has been adopted in the US, Europe and other parts of the world, where newspapers have one copy for Saturday and Sunday.

He cited a US report that suggested newspapers would vanish by the year 2032, affirming Al-Qabas “plans to strengthen the electronic copy, we have big investment in this domain and we will attract more readers who will pay affordable prices for the service.”

Majed Al-Ali, chief editor of Al-Rai Newspaper, said the one-day paper production suspension would not affect most readers because all newspapers have digital copies, which are updated round-the-clock.

Al-Ali, citing international studies conducted in 2018, said they concluded newspapers were more ‘credible’ than the digital copy because they ‘verified the story before publication, contrary to other means which consider publication speed more important than content or credibility.’ Al-Ali added that little advertisement income and rising costs may have caused the one-day production suspension. “Newspapers have been suffering from losses for years, and it is time to rearrange their priorities.”

Al-Anbaa Newspaper Chief Editor Yusuf Al-Marzouq brushed aside speculations that the one-day suspension was a beginning of permanent closure. Nasser Al-Otaibi, Managing Editor of Al-Jarida Newspaper, who acknowledged newspapers were suffering severe financial issues, said the one-day suspension was not the end of newspapers.

“It is too early to talk about closure of newspapers in Kuwait because they are taking serious steps to prevent this,” he said.

He added, “Al-Jarida, would rather develop its paper copy to include more analyses, reports, interviews and features in order to counter the competition posed by the digital media. Like other papers, Al-Jarida would compensate suspension of production of its hard copy into its digital copy and social media. It was already updating its digital copy and providing most recent stories like the National Assembly sessions.”

A 2016 study by Al-Jazeera Center for Studies showed internet users in the Arab world skyrocketed from 29 million in 2007 to 140 million in 2015, indicating rising number of readers of digital media.

“The newspapers represent a daily ritual for a large segment of people especially the senior citizens,” said Waleed Al-Holan, a journalist, adding the credibility of newspapers was higher because every story was verified at multiple levels before final print. However, Hanan Al-Zayed, another journalist, said correcting mistakes in digital copies was easy and would not cost anything, contrary to the print papers which would lose news space and copies.

She believed the one-day production suspension “will trigger a social problem, at least at the personal level because people will miss the feeling of papers.” Al-Zayed said the overuse of a smart phone tend to isolate the individual from his or her social environment.

Abdulwahhab Al-Essa, another journalist, said newspapers were suffering from the electronic revolution, and predicted the papers to continue paper publications but on a weekly or even monthly basis. Newspapers are struggling in the face of digital age, but it was a similar situation when people thought the introduction of TV was the end of radio. They were proven wrong and the radio survived through the development of content and introduction of interactive methods allowing it to retain its audience.

Time will tell if newspapers will follow suit.