‘Publishers must join together’

Publishers in the Middle East have been warned that their failure to come together as an association is holding back the industry.

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By  Tim Addington Published  March 12, 2006

Publishers in the Middle East have been warned that their failure to come together as an association is holding back the industry. Chris Llewellyn, chairman of the International Federation of the Periodical Press, which represents magazines’ interests around the world, has urged rival publishers to put aside their differences to set ethical and business standards in the region. Previous attempts at establishing publishing associations have ended in failure. Llewellyn, who is also managing director of the international division of EMAP, one of the UK’s largest media companies, said the time had come to support a group that could strengthen and promote the industry by tackling common issues such as distribution, advertising rates, professionalism of sales, editorial quality and lobbying on issues like freedom of the press. Speaking at the Middle East Publishing Conference held in Dubai last week, Llewellyn said: “It is not easy for an industry to put to one side the intense competitive nature that publishers everywhere have for the sake of the common good. “But to have a successful industry without an association to help the industry compete effectively with other media for the time and money of both consumers and advertisers and to persuade government to adopt policies helpful to the magazine industry, is extremely difficult, if not impossible.” He said that there were currently 45 national associations representing the magazine industry around the world, 43 of which were members of FIPP. He told delegates at the conference: “I look forward to a Middle East association joining FIPP, where it will be given an extremely warm welcome.” And in an interview in today’s Campaign, Marwan Rizk, vice president and area director for the International Advertising Association in the Middle East and Africa, has made a similar call. He said: “The guys I blame more are the publishers, because at least the clients have an entity to speak on their behalf. What about the publishers? We don’t have a body that represents the publishers. They seem not at all to see eye-to-eye with each other. They can’t even sit around a table. They are always fighting. It reminds me of Iraq.” Some regional publishers have given cautious support to Llewellyn’s call. Simon O’Herlihy, general manager of marketing at Motivate Publishing, said attention should be given to establishing a group in the UAE first. “There have been three or four initiatives to try and do this before and none of them have lasted more than getting past some steering committee or talking shop,” he said. “I think it has got to happen sooner or later, I think it would be a good thing if it was done under the FIPP umbrella. There has been a bit too much self-interest from publishers to take it forward. But there is willingness there.” And his comments were backed by Ronnie Middleton, managing director of Bahrain’s Al Hilal Group. He said that a regional grouping would be difficult to establish, given the different nationalities of those involved in publishing. He said: “It is an extremely difficult thing to implement across the region. It is always good for people in any industry to talk, but different cultures and ways of doing business could cause problems.” But ITP, one of the region’s largest English-language publishers, did not support Llewellyn’s call. Walid Akawi, CEO at ITP Publishing, which also publishes Campaign, said: “I don’t think that the fast-growing and vibrant Middle East publishing industry needs to be told what to do by day-trip visitors to Dubai, however well-intentioned they may be.”

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