Senior vice president (finance and operations) of Galadari Printing & Publishing, Saghir Ahmed Khan gives Shilpa Jasani an ‘indepth overview’ of the trends and movements of the printing and publishing industry in UAE.
“The future is digital platforms, by that I do not mean digital printing rather different forms of dissemination of information including web-publishing and online versions, e-newspapers, mobile applications among others,” explains the senior vice-president at Galadari Printing and Publishing (a subsidiary of UAE-based Galadari Brothers Group), Saghir Ahmed Khan during an interview with PrintWeek MEA. “UAE has a large immigrant population and a pre-dominant South Asian presence, who are habituated to reading the physical copy of a newspaper. However, digital media is making steady inroads in the Emirates and finding a sustainable business model for our digital news media platform is a priority. Digital advertising increased by 11% globally and 47% over the last 5 years. Though advertising on the internet is gaining momentum, it is still a relatively small part of the overall advertising spend. We are further investing in our digital operations even as we keep pace with technology and trends in the industry. This will ensure that the company gets its due market share.”
Armed with a Master’s degree in Business Administration in Finance from Karachi (Pakistan), Khan arrived on the shores of Dubai in 1989, and has been with Galadari Brothers Group for 35 years. Currently, he is a member of the Printing & Publishing Group of DCCI and a Middle East Committee member of WAN IFRA.
Reminiscing about the changes in the printing industry, Khan elucidates, “The newsroom, as we used to know it, has been redefined with the relentless advance of digital technology. But print is an integral part of the publishing business and is full of innovation. The industry is now looking at ‘going green’ even as it embraces the latest developments in digital printing. Let’s not forget that print is a very powerful platform. Despite a growing online presence, newspapers continue to draw 2.5 billion readers every day and is responsible for about 92% of any newspaper company’s revenues globally. The huge advances in print technology has been a major factor in the evolution of the printing industry from the conventional to a high-tech era; be it in the pre-press, press room or mailroom. The operating environment and system have been transformed from manual operations to electronic based systems.”
English language daily newspaper Khaleej Times, published by Galadari Printing & Publishing is distributed in the UAE, neighbouring GCC countries as well as India and Pakistan. The group also has the license to print and distribute the International New York Times and regional language titles like the Indian newspaper Mathrubhumi.
“UAE is strategically located, having the distinct edge over many countries in attracting publishers to re-print and re-export their titles in the UAE to be distributed in the GCC region, saving on logistics costs. With a growing circulation – (over the last five years print circulation has grown 7.5% in the Middle East) – publishers have realised that UAE is cost effective when compared to shipment from the country of origin to destinations, thousands of miles away. We have Khaleej Times set ups in neighbouring GCC countries as well as India and Pakistan, so are able to organise the distribution of other newspapers through the same channels. In fact, by reprinting the newspapers in UAE, their circulation numbers have increased.”
Talking about the challenges they have faced, Khan recollects, “The global downturn in 2008-09 affected us as well, with advertising revenues being eroded by almost 40%. In the pre-crises period, the year-on-year growth was in double digits. To cope with the demand during those times, our operations were enhanced. And when this is drastically reduced, no one can sustain the cost base, and this was very challenging. In 2009, we focused on restructuring the entire set-up – through assessing the resource requirement and pruning those; all surpluses were streamlined and rationalised. Our mandate was to ‘keep afloat’. This strategy worked and by 2012, markets started picking up. For digital platforms, the challenge is how much to invest further and which direction should the investment be channelized like mobile, e-platform or e-newspaper. While for commercial printing, the challenge is increased competition and the sometimes ‘unreasonable’ credit facility demanded. Over supply and enhanced capacity has led to unhealthy competition and undercutting. In the current times, publishing is facing an onslaught from digital media. Publishers need to be innovative. Space selling should be transformed to providing solutions.”
Walking down memory lane Khan says, “The most memorable moment in my career was when we moved to our new premises on 1st January 2004, with hugely enhanced capacity. A plan was conceived and successfully implemented. That day brought me great satisfaction.”
Looking ahead Khan adds, “We are expanding commercial printing operations into packaging, increasing our presence in African countries, and moving aggressively towards online and digital. We are looking at transforming the company from a print platform to a multi-media platform.”