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‘No longer possible for us to offer content for free’ – Gulf News CEO

‘No longer possible for us to offer content for free’ – Gulf News CEO

The Dubai-based daily has announced plans to launch a paywall for its online content

Dubai-based newspaper Gulf News has announced plans to launch an online paid subscription model.

Launched 42 years ago, the daily said it was adopting the paywall in line with the international publishing industry.

“The decision to go behind a paywall and to charge for our online content was taken a while ago. It is no longer possible for us – or for that matter any other news organisation – to carry on offering their content for free, while we witness, regionally and globally, an increasing decline in revenues coming in from advertising,” said Abdul Hamid Ahmad, CEO, editor-in-chief and executive director of Publishing at Gulf News.

“Yes, it would be possible, if the publishing house is supported by the government or by external revenue streams. Without that financial support, nobody can continue without going behind a paywall. This is not a mere trend but a reality that media houses have to accept and are forced to comply with,” he added.

Several news organisations across the world have introduced subscription models – either partially or fully – in recent years. Others have opted for a model seeking donations from users to ensure that they can continue operations even as advertisement revenues have continued to dwindle. One of the reasons for this is that digital firms Google and Facebook are eating into the revenues of publishing houses, said Ahmad.

“It’s a turning point for our business and we understand from others, globally, that it will take time to reach our goals but there is no other option but to go for online subscription. This is true, especially because of media giants such as Google and Facebook, who are eating into our revenue streams while cannibalising our content,” he said.

Ahmad says he expects the move to also support Gulf News‘ advertising model in the longer term.

“When it comes to paid content, the sales and advertising industry is always skeptical. In fact, we have seen that despite incredibly high digital traffic, the commensurate revenue has not come in, it has not helped. And this is having an impact on the quality of advertising too. But, I have a positive market outlook when it comes to the paywall, it will work well. Once you have paid subscribers, it will mean a targeted market that advertisers can optimise and utilise more effectively,” he said.

The company has not yet revealed the subscription price and payment options, but Ahmad said rates will be “affordable”. Gulf News will also offer discounts in the initial period.

“We can’t state our expectations now, because these are uncharted waters. But, we are confident that we will learn from this,” stated Ahmad.

“And I am sure that other media houses will follow suit, if they have to survive, unless, of course, they are supported by external entities.”

Gulf News says its website currently averages 230 million page views and 15 million unique visitors per month.

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