As Al Ghad marks its 12-year anniversary, the owner of Jordan’s most popular independent newspaper remains upbeat about the title’s future in a fast changing media landscape marked by declining ad sales and readership.
By Dina Al Wakeel
Mohammad Alayyan is a man who wears many hats. He’s heavily involved in his family’s businesses in car insurance, for example. But he’s probably best known for launching the Al Ghad newspaper 12 years ago.
“The journey has been an interesting one; full of laughter, smiles, tears, and sweat,” he told Venture. “But all in all I’m proud to have reached the twelfth anniversary because many people never saw this coming.”
But why doubt its success? Maybe because 12 years ago the media scene was completely different from what it is today. Jordan’s media sector was dominated by two state-run daily newspapers—Al Rai and Addustour—as well as the independent al Arab al Yawm daily, while the Internet was only getting started in the Kingdom.
Today, both state-run dailies that have been plagued by poor management for years, are suffering from shrinking revenues and growing debts, and chances of the survival of at least one of them is increasingly dwindling. While al Arab al Yawm shut its doors in 2015, and like elsewhere in the world, online media outlets are becoming increasingly popular.
Alayyan, who said he doesn’t interfere in the day-to-day operations of the newspaper or control its editorial directions, acknowledges the difficulties of owning a newspaper in today’s tough media environment. “We tried to build Al Ghad as a brand, positioned it as an independent, forthcoming, liberal, open, Jordanian newspaper,” he said. “It is not the easiest thing. Whether due to complexities of publishing—especially traditional publishing which is paper print—or on top of that the complexities of Jordan, the complexities of the journalism sector as a whole, in addition to the environment that you’re working in, whether it’s political or social.”
Like most other newspapers globally, Al Ghad is trying to build an Internet presence. Alayyan said its website receives 1.5 million unique visitors per month, many of whom are attracted by its growing multimedia content. “We are more into videos now and that’s very important,” he said, adding the newspaper’s Facebook page has also amassed 3 million likes.
He believes the key for journalism to survive and thrive in the digital age is to embrace multimedia. “Today you can no longer afford to only be a print journalist, you have to be a TV journalist, you have to be a radio journalist, and you have to be an online journalist all in one,” he explained, stressing that there’s still a huge demand for news from professional journalists, as opposed to citizen journalists.
Unlike newspapers in other more crowded markets, Alayyan said Al Ghad has been successful because of its willingness to adapt to new market realities. Another reason has been that most of the other major newspaper titles in Jordan are state-owned and don’t represent serious competition. “They never focused on home delivery or subscriptions, they never tailored to the youth, and they were old fashioned,” he said. Those are the exact reasons why Al Waseet excelled, a weekly classified advertisement publication that his family established in 1998 and that his brother currently runs. Al Waseet’s business model has also been applied to Al Ghad; a newspaper that has a strong independent voice, that can target usually ignored demographics like women and young people, and that can use the arm and knowhow of Al Waseet for circulation and have door-to-door daily subscriptions.
Al Ghad has 45,000 annual subscribers. As for ad sales, Alayyan said unlike his competitors who have lost a significant chunk of the advertising pie, there hasn’t been a significant drop with the printed Al Ghad. “We were never dependent on the government anyway, and commercially we were stronger and we gave different advertising solutions.” While ads in the printed edition have dropped slightly, annual online ad revenue has increased by more than 30 percent, said Alayyan. Today, digital revenues represent 4 percent of the newspaper’s total revenue.
He added that a pay wall was once considered, but was later dismissed, and they are currently considering a “paymeter,” or pay-as-you-go system.
Alayyan insisted that print was not a dying business. “There’s no doubt that print is being affected and is decreasing due to online. But I don’t think it’s a dying business, I think it’s just sick,” he said.
He added there was room for two newspapers in the local market, one independent and one government-owned, maybe room for a third, but not more.
Furthermore, Alayyan still believes that traditional journalism will survive as there is still demand for real professional journalists, though it still needs to change and remodel itself for sure and the faster it evolves the better are the chances of its survival. “I think the key for success is being relevant to the people. Focusing a lot on local content is still very important,” he stressed.
Moreover, from a business sense newspapers no longer have the luxury of being a big company with hundreds of employees. Al Ghad, which used to have 360 employees, today has 280 thanks to technology advancement.
Other changes that have been shaking the media world include not only having an online portal, but having a smartphone one, where most consumers digest their news today. This is an option that Alayyan is seriously considering.
Alayyan didn’t dismiss the fact that one day they might ditch print in favor of a full online presence, though he said it would not be happening anytime soon. “I don’t know when I see that happening,” he said. ”My job is to prolong the process as long as possible. But I don’t see it happening in the short-term, because we are financially viable, we are profitable.”