Campaign Report on Worldwide Advertising (IAA Special): Middle East print matures - The Gulf markets prefer papers or magazines to TV and they like their printed matter to be homegrown. Michele Martin reports on how local publishers have refined their pro

Magazines can be a dangerous currency in the Middle East. One ex-pat recalls having his copy of Loaded confiscated on arrival at Syria’s Damascus airport and adds: ’Even buying an edition of the Economist was hit and miss. Sometimes it arrived a week late with pages torn out.’

Magazines can be a dangerous currency in the Middle East. One

ex-pat recalls having his copy of Loaded confiscated on arrival at

Syria’s Damascus airport and adds: ’Even buying an edition of the

Economist was hit and miss. Sometimes it arrived a week late with pages

torn out.’

Many parts of the Arabic world are a closed shop when it comes to

Western magazines and newspapers, with titles arriving late to

newsstands (if they arrive at all) and often censored to shreds. From a

Western perspective, such censorship might seem reason enough for the

burgeoning homegrown print media there, but the truth is far more

complex. Because far from hankering after the forbidden fruits of

Cosmopolitan or GQ, the Middle East does not aspire to anyone else’s

media but its own. ’We’ve done research and the message always comes

back loud and clear. People want magazines and newspapers that reflect

their lives and culture, written in Arabic,’ explains Layla Anabtawi,

media manager of TMI UK, the London office of one of the best-known

Middle Eastern agency networks.

In a region where satellite television is still relatively young and

poster coverage sporadic, magazines and newspapers are one of the most

vital areas of Middle Eastern media. Research conducted by the

Dubai-based Pan-Arab Research Centre (PARC) in the six major Gulf markets

- Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar -

shows healthy year-on-year growth. Total adspend in 1997 was dollars 750

million, of which almost two thirds, or dollars 467 million, went on

newspapers and dollars 129 million went on magazines. Those figures

represent a 62 per cent market share for newspapers - up from 58 per

cent in 1996 - and a stable 17 per cent for magazines. Television

adspend came in a poor third by comparison at less than dollars 100

million. Adspend in pan-Arab titles also rose from dollars 81.5 million

in 1996 to dollars 83.2 million in 1997, although magazines’ overall

share of a market inflated by the growth of satellite television


Such growth is being fuelled by innovation at every turn. Newspapers,

the historical backbone of Arabic print media, are holding their own and

adding supplements. Men’s magazines are beginning to look beyond just

politics and sport, prompting predictions of market growth for

general-interest magazines in the next three to five years. Women’s

magazines, which have always thrived, are fragmenting and offering more

highly targeted reading to appeal to different interests and age groups.

And most of these sectors are going online, particularly newspapers.

As well as quantity, the quality of publications is also improving.

Titles such as Hia, an Arabic Vogue, have launched since the early 90s

to compete with Western glossies and publications of all sorts are

improving the quality of editorial, photography and even paper. ’Arabic

consumers have started to travel and the outside world has a foot into

their world through satellite television. They are much more

knowledgeable and demanding,’ TMI’s Anabtawi explains.

The reasons for the thriving print market across the region are


Part of the strength of the sector is historical - men through the

decades have imbibed their news through newspapers each morning. Another

is growing literacy. Ajay Shrikhande, the managing director of Ammirati

Puris Lintas Gulf, Dubai, says: ’Affluence has led to rapid growth in

the numbers of people learning to read and hence a distinct change in

reading habits. People aren’t just reading daily newspapers and family

magazines. They are getting specialised and niche titles, too.’

Other factors include the relative lack of censorship inflicted on the

press compared with local television stations and the more ’personal’

editorial content found in the written word compared with Asian-wide

satellite stations.

Arab publications tend to be classified broadly as either ’local’ (for

one country), ’regional’ (for one country with some overspill) or

pan-Arab (for the whole of the Middle East), with individual countries

displaying their own preferences. Egyptians and Syrians, for example,

are almost exclusively newspaper consumers while the Lebanese read a

variety of products.

Newspapers tend to be the most mature and unchanging sector of the print

media, dominated by thriving local papers and the two main pan-Arab

titles, Al-Hayat and Al Sharq al Awsat. Magazines, on the other hand,

spread themselves locally, regionally and beyond.

Most successful of all are women’s magazines - women are large media

consumers and constitute an attractive audience for advertisers, thanks

to their influence over purchasing decisions in what remains a largely

matriarchal society. Female titles fall into two categories, the

smallest and glossiest of which is the pan-Arab sector, with

publications which are broadly equivalent to demure versions of Marie

Claire or Cosmopolitan. Magazines such as Zeina or Fairuz are often

published in liberal Lebanon for broader distribution and carry stories

on beauty, international fashion and Western movie stars.

Figures from TMI indicate that circulation for Zeina is less than 50,000

while Fairuz comes in at under 90,000, with heaviest readership for both

in the Gulf states rather than the Levant countries of Syria, Jordan and


The most popular types of women’s publications, however, are the more

homely general-interest titles, which cover everything from cookery and

make-up tips, to how to breast-feed a baby. The most popular of these

are Zahraty al Khaleej, which is published in the UAE but goes further

afield, and Sayidaty, which is published for the Saudi market, but which

has a much wider penetration and a claimed circulation of 150,000.

Published by Saudi Research and Publishing, the largest publisher in the

region, the magazine attracts local and multinational advertisers such

as Procter & Gamble and is aimed at all women aged 20 to 60.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given its maturity, the women’s market is

starting to show classic signs of fragmentation, with launches targeting

either specific age or interest groups. Saudi Research launched the

beauty magazine, Al Jamila, as a monthly two years ago but, in response

to its popularity, upped the frequency to weekly last September. Terry

Cox, director and general manager of the publisher’s sales and marketing

arm, believes there is plenty more room in the market for such

specialisation. He says: ’By making Al Jamila a weekly, we’re beefing up

the whole market. I think it’s inevitable that there will be a move

towards more fragmentation, since media trends in the Gulf or Saudi are

no different to media trends in the US or UK.’

Compared with the women’s market, men’s magazines have shown less

dynamism and innovation in the past year or so, but there are signs of

life in certain sectors. Glossy general-interest magazines are

available, with pan-regional Saudi titles such as Arrajol and the

Lebanese Rijal carrying interviews with famous Arab men as well as

articles on cars and property - a mix that attracts advertising from

luxury goods companies including private plane manufacturers. But they

have some way to go before they command the market or interest of GQ or

Esquire in Europe and the US.

More buoyant are the two staples of male reading; sports titles such as

Frousiyah (horse racing), Aalam al Riadah (mainly football) and Alam

Assarat (motor racing) and a proliferation of weekly news magazines.

Leading that field are the pan-regional Al Wasat and Hawadeth, as well

as the Saudi-based Al Majaala, which posted record sales figures for the

second half of 1996 of 99,000 and offers a mix of news, politics and

financial information. It is this sector that has most potential,

according to the region’s media buyers - something TMI’s Anabtawi puts

down to the fact that news magazines tap into the Middle East’s heavy

newspaper culture. ’There hasn’t been so much growth in male magazines

because men are big newspaper readers who are most interested in finance

and politics. But there is definitely room for growth in men’s titles

overall,’ she says.

But it isn’t just Arabic newspapers and magazines that are growing and

evolving - even English-language newspapers aimed mainly at European and

Asian ex-pats working in the region are innovating. Lining up next to

the increasingly sophisticated local news titles such as Beirut’s Daily

Star, Arab News and Bahrain Times are a new generation of magazines

which could eventually influence the broader market.

UEA, with an immigrant population of around 50 per cent, is one of the

most thriving and original centres for ex-pat media, especially glossy

magazines. In recent years, it has seen the launch of lifestyle titles

such as Emirates Man and Emirates Woman and, at the end of last year, it

spawned the Middle East’s first magazine for the MTV generation, Young

and Trendy. Aimed at 18- to 25-year-olds, the title covers youth issues

and is expected to expand into other countries if successful.

With so much activity, it is no wonder that some publishers feel that

Arabic print media may be ready to take the next step up the

evolutionary ladder, just as UK publishers have done in recent years.

But while masthead television and brand extensions may not be quite

round the corner just yet, some people have ambitions.

Cox, for example, is adamant that whatever the West does, the Middle

East can do just as well. ’I’d like to see Sayidaty having its own

half-hour fashion show on TV or doing the same kind of things that Elle

does,’ he says. With the sector showing no signs of complacency,

anything seems possible.


If you want to know about King Faud’s health or the 900-strong Japanese

community living in Cairo, look no further than the Internet. Even by

Web standards, the amount of information available on the superhighway

through the Arab press is impressive, whether browsing in English or


A trawl of just one search engine throws up a plethora of reading


Daily titles include English-language papers such as the Gulf News and

Beirut’s Daily Star as well as two Jordanian titles, three Palestinian

ones and five Lebanese. The two leading pan-Arab dailies - Al-Hayat and

Al Sharq Al-Awsat - are also online. Weekly papers include Ain al Yaqeen

and Al Hadath while monthly magazines include Egypt’s leading

English-language monthly, Egypt Today. Arab media owners may not have

got round to putting their lifestyle and general interest magazines on

the Net but they are ahead of the game when it comes to news and current

affairs titles. Terry Cox, director and general manager of the leading

publishing company, Saudi Research and Marketing, is typical of current

thinking when he says that the company has already put a few of its 17

titles on the Web and is planning to do the same with others. ’It’s

something that’s being studied very carefully. It’s a way of increasing

reach without increasing cost,’ he says. Arab media’s interest in the

Net has been fuelled by increasing use of computers across the region.

Only 525,000 people are online in the Middle East according to NUA

Internet Surveys, and that figure is not helped by religiously

conservative countries who discourage Net use because of the access it

gives to unsuitable material. Despite this, the figure is growing all

the time as local service providers open for business in places such as

the UEA. And while the local markets are growing, the large diaspora

community of Arabs living throughout the world already makes a tempting

target audience. The UK alone boasts 500,000 Arab national residents,

for whom computer access to their favourite publications is more

convenient than waiting for a shipment of the real thing.

Such audiences mean increased readership and brand awareness for the

publications that do go online, but the benefits of going global reach

beyond just that. The Internet is also a good way of encouraging

readership among young people and students, who tend to have access to

the Internet in higher numbers than any other sector of the population.

’It’s a good way of getting people in their formative years,’ Cox


For now, the one barrier to significant growth as far as advertisers are

concerned is the lack of regional customer research into who is

accessing Websites, but this is being addressed increasingly as interest

in the medium grows. And once there is reliable data, ad agencies say

that their clients will begin to use the medium more, which will expand

the sector.

’Once there is more information on who’s using the sites, more

advertisers will start going online,’ concludes Layla Anabtawi, media

manager of TMI UK.