KARACHI: Media insiders expect cut-throat competition in the English print media market as two new publications enter the once stagnant market that has already witnessed one launch this year (The Express Tribune). The first is the Pakistan edition of US based Newsweek Pakistan which is set to launch today despite facing ongoing losses in the international market.
It, along with many other media entities including the New York Times (a partner paper of The Express Tribune in Pakistan) faces a difficult future as the rise of the internet coupled with the decline of a newspaper reading population in Western nations has battered their profit margins.
The second newspaper set to launch later this year is Pakistan Today, a daily newspaper to be published from Lahore by former publisher of The Nation, Arif Nizami.
Editor of Newsweek Pakistan, Fasih Ahmed says the localised version of the international current affairs magazine will have double the print run as compared to that of the international edition. “Newsweek has been around in Pakistan for years,” he says “we are not taking a risk.”
This is the eighth international edition of the magazine as Newsweek has been spreading its wings in the face of massive losses.
The English-language weekly had been on the block for over three months ever since the Washington Post Company announced $30 million in losses last year alone, until 91-year-old audio equipment magnate Sidney Harman agreed to buy the flailing publication earlier this month.
Alongside the sale, there has been a departure of key editors, the most notable being Fareed Zakaria, who has left Newsweek to join its competitor Time magazine as a contributing editor and columnist.
However, Ahmed says the change in ownership will have no impact on the new magazine’s fortunes in Pakistan. “Unlike Newsweek Asia which is currently available in the market, the magazine is to offer readers thirty percent global news with seventy percent homegrown, local coverage.” Ahmed says it is the same ratio that is followed by all of Newsweek’s 11 international editions distributed in more than 190 countries.
Owais Aslam Ali, chairman of Pakistan Press International expects other international publications to follow suit. “Eastern markets are more viable,” he says. “International newspapers and magazines have brand value which they can use to their advantage. They can go much further with lesser investment.”
Ahmed is confident that Newsweek Pakistan will do well. “There are not a lot of news magazines out there,” he says. “We are trying to bring a new kind of journalism to Pakistan.”
Chief Operating Officer Babar Nizami of Pakistan Today shares the same sentiment. Both Newsweek and Pakistan Today propose to focus on investigative and enterprise journalism. He says that his newspaper could be compared to a local Washington Post or New York Times.
But with a limited English-speaking (and reading) market how far is there to go? Publisher of The Nation, Rameeza Nizami says the market is thoroughly saturated. “Any newspaper that enters now will have a tough time. The cost of production is higher than Urdu newspapers, circulation is smaller and advertising rates differ. Breaking even can take decades, turning a profit sometimes longer.”
Despite these odds Arif Nizami is set to begin publishing Pakistan Today from Lahore later this fall with financial support of the Mansha group and Izzat Majeed.
Babar Nizami at Pakistan Today confirmed that Pakistan Today would be the country’s first non-broadsheet full-color English language newspaper. He claims readers and advertisers will find “style with substance” as they have never seen it before.
But it is not just new publications that can play the design game. Rameeza Nizami reveals that The Nation has plans to make-over its layout as well. She says the goal is not to compete but improve.
Ironically, journalists are not too happy about this competitive boom in the English media. Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists President Pervez Shaukat says that new publications have failed to hire accomplished journalists. “They want good reports from novice journalists,” he says “new organizations do not realize the value of experience – and both journalist and journalism are suffering as a result.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2010.