A market recast: The rise of independent papers spurs competition

With the highest newspaper circulation in the Arab world, at 5.36m issues, Egypt accounts for 43% of the total. Each newspaper is read by several people, meaning that readership is considerably higher – 45% of the population read a newspaper every day, according to the Dubai Press Club (DPC). There are 21 daily newspaper titles. Readership grew in 2011, despite a regional trend in the other direction, largely due to the hunger for news on the revolution and politics since.

INCUMBENTS & INDEPENDENTS: Traditionally dominated by state publications, the market has been boosted by the growth of independent newspapers, the most high-profile of which are Al Masry Al Youm and Al Shorouk. In addition to the state-owned and private publications, there are a number of newspapers run by political parties, including Al Ahrar, Al Wafd and Al Ghad, each taking its name from the party in question.

But whereas state television stations have withered since the revolution, government-owned newspapers are still very strong. The state-owned “semi-official” Al Akhbar was Egypt’s most-read newspaper as of the first quarter of 2012, with average issue readership of 41% (that is the proportion of those who have read any newspaper over a certain period). Al Akhbar’s core readership is the older generation, and it has stayed loyal during Egypt’s political turmoil. It is followed by the independent Al Masry Al Youm (22%), the two government publications Al Ahram (17%) and Al Goumhuriya (8%) and private Youm7 (4%), according to IPSOS.

Al Ahram is Egypt’s second-oldest newspaper and has a long reputation as one of the most venerable publications in the Arab world, though in recent decades its pro-government line has made it unpopular in some quarters. The editors of Al Akhbar, Al Ahram and Al Goumhuriya are all appointed by the president, and the papers practice self-censorship and tend to be loyal to the government. Al Ahram’s readership declined during and immediately after the revolution, but is now recovering, Aiman El Kaissouni, a media manager at IPSOS, told OBG. In contrast, Al Masry Al Youm has become something of a go-to portal for independent news on Egypt. It was established in 2004, but circulation more than doubled between 2008 and 2011, from 80,000 copies per day to 180,000, overtaking Al Ahram in the process. Youm7 has also been something of a success story. Launched in 2008, it became a daily in 2011 in the wake of the revolution.

The launch of the daily Al Tahrir in July 2011 was much-heralded, not least as it is edited and part-owned by Ibrahim Eissa, a critic of the Mubarak regime who was persecuted and arrested for his reportage in the past. The newspaper sees itself as providing a forum for deeper comment and analysis of news, and to attract young people disillusioned with the existing media. The paper’s main shareholder is Al Shorouk owner Ibhraim Al Moalem. However, a year into its life, Al Tahrir was not doing as well as some had hoped, Shaheer Farag, the deputy general manager of Universal Media MENA, a communications firm, told OBG, a sign that despite the gains made by some new publications, in Egypt’s competitive newspaper market, even those with experienced management are not guaranteed rapid success.

ONLINE PRESENCE: Several Egyptian newspapers have established a successful online presence, with four in the 40 most-visited websites; Al Ahram (16th), Al Wafd (26th), Al Shorouk (30th) and Al Masry Al Youm (39th).

Al Dostour ranks 52nd. As the DPC notes, Al Shorouk in particular has thrived through the internet, becoming the third-most-visited newspaper site despite ranking outside the top 10 in print circulation. This is partly due to the fact that its core readership tends to be young.

Sarah Broberg, the deputy managing director at PR agency TRACCS, said that the Egyptian media as a whole was benefitting from the emergence of new, independent newspapers, both due to the competition spurring incumbents to improve quality (and enhance critical coverage) and to the impetus brought by the young and talented journalists being employed by the independents. There is a sense that the hierarchical and somewhat staid world of Egyptian newspapers is being recast.

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The Report: Egypt 2012

Media & Advertising chapter from The Report: Egypt 2012

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