Egos and distrust are dividing region’s publishers

You know when you’re having one of those arguments when you’re convinced that the earth is round, and the other guy says it’s flat? Or the other way round? As Galileo discovered to his cost, it’s often impossible to persuade the other party of your point of view.

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  March 12, 2006

|~||~||~|You know when you’re having one of those arguments when you’re convinced that the earth is round, and the other guy says it’s flat? Or the other way round? As Galileo discovered to his cost, it’s often impossible to persuade the other party of your point of view. Last week was a little like that, although fortunately without the red hot pokers. The trigger for the debate was the Middle East Publishing Conference in Dubai, where the topic under debate was what should be the innocuous question of whether to have a regional association of publishers. Yet rather than the more charged topics of things like press freedom in the Middle East, print auditing or the growing threat of the internet to print advertising, the question of an industry association generated a lot of the debate. We had Chris Llewellyn, the chairman of the International Federation of the Periodical Press on the podium urging publishers to come together for the benefit of the whole industry. But as you’ll see from our front page story, ITP, probably the biggest English language magazine publisher in the region (and incidentally Campaign’s publisher) is rather less convinced. And the failure of several other big publishers to play a role at the conference suggests the company is by no means alone in supporting the isolationist view. But sometimes media owners need to stand together. Llewellyn set out many of the positive benefits of an association in his speech, but he missed out the biggest issue of all — the genuine threat of divide and rule, particularly when it comes to media auditing. In most media sales transactions there are three parties — the advertisers, the media agency and the media owner. The advertisers are finally beginning to organise themselves with the GCC Association of Advertisers. By standing together, they are likely to prevent some of the appalling abuse of their money that currently goes on. The media agencies speak to a certain extent through the International Advertising Association, and anyway are the party making the most money out of the transaction at the moment, so face less of a pressing need for any specific agency-only body. But the media owners are divided by ego and distrust. As I say, this is already manifesting itself over the issue of media auditing. If all of the serious media owners stood together and agreed they would all commit to only credible currencies such as BPA and ABC UK auditing, then they could carry the agenda. But the danger is that media agencies will come together and by leading the debate come up with a more murky solution — a watered down process perhaps with non-credible, non-specialist local auditors that serves nothing but prolonging the status quo which is advantageous for them. Time is already running out. No single media owner is big enough to win the fight on its own — even if it believes it is. And if the media owners do not come together soon then it will be too late; the best opportunity for many years to bring real transparency — and as a result increased international advertising investment — into the market will have been lost. There is nothing unique to the Middle East about this issue —as we discuss in our report on the Thai ad industry on page 17 today, finding consensus is a fight in any market, yet in most other places it is being achieved. In less than a fortnight, the great and the good of the world’s advertising industry will be in Dubai for the IAA World Congress. Even between now and then, there is time to make progress if a few media owners are brave enough to pick up the phone to each other. Otherwise, the image presented to the world will be of a divided, backward and murky industry. And you don’t need to be a clever clogs like Galileo to realise that is in nobody’s interests.||**||

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