Regional print media showing signs of recovery

Total circulation increased by two percent in the first half of this year.

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Middle East publishers cut the number of copies of magazines and newspapers they printed last year, but a slight rise in audited circulation numbers this year points to a slow recovery in the market. Total print circulation declined by 6 per cent in the second half of last year compared with the first half, according to audited figures from BPA Worldwide.

Better Homes Magazine, published by Hot Media Publishing, saw a 39 per cent decline in circulation in the second half of last year. Emirates Woman and Business Traveller Middle East, both published by Motivate Publishing, saw a 33 and 32 per cent decline, respectively. Sporting magazines saw the biggest rises in circulation, with F1 Racing Middle East, published by The Media Factory, reporting an 81 per cent increase.

The figures are based on 71 publications audited by BPA. Nineteen BPA members were excluded from the calculation because they were being audited for the first time, were part of the events industry or because they had not met the BPA's guidelines. Despite the decline last year, early circulation figures for this year point to a slowly recovering market. While figures for just 16 titles have so far been released, they point to a 2 per cent increase in total circulation in the first half of this year. Nicholas Publishing's Concierge Magazine reported a circulation increase of 18 per cent, the largest in the BPA assessment.

"Publishers cut print runs and frequencies to manage the recession. As we come out of that, they start to turn the taps back on," said Stuart Wilkinson, BPA Worldwide's managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Mr Wilkinson said the Middle East publishing industry was different from "the largely newsstand-driven market in the West" because the local market was not solely retail-driven. Many magazines and newspapers are free, and publishers sometimes decide to cut a print run if they are looking to target a niche market, he said.

BPA Worldwide, which opened an office in Dubai in 2005, undertakes independent audits of 90 magazines, newspapers and events in the Middle East, most of them in the UAE. It is now seeing growing interest in auditing elsewhere in the GCC, as publishers look for a way to prove the attractiveness of their titles to advertisers. Auditing in the UAE "grew very quickly for about three years, and then the recession hit", he said.

"Now the growing presence is not within the UAE. There are publishers in the GCC that are reading, learning and hearing about the positive effects of auditing," he said. "Is there a way to go? Absolutely. There are big cultural challenges. We have big problems with the Arabic titles, which on the whole remain unaudited and unaccountable." There was, however, an opportunity for "tremendous growth" in the region's publishing industry, he said. "The consumption of print media has still got a long way to go in the Middle East."

bflanagan@thenational.ae

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