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Notes from Bangkok: the enduring power of print in Asia

Having just returned from the WAN-IFRA Asian Media Awards, which took place in Bangkok at the end of May, I wanted to share a couple of thoughts. First off, the event itself was well worth the long journey and a big thank you is in order for all organisers and participants. It was truly inspiring to meet with so many colleagues from all over the continent and, of course, returning with three medals in tow was a special experience as well. Al Bayan took three awards – gold, silver and bronze – in the Best of Magazine Infographics category. Each infographic represents a different sector of the Gulf’s burgeoning media industry, namely: radio, television and, yes, good old print. For us, their success at this international competition came as a very welcome affirmation of a strategy experiment we have been conducting here at Al Bayan over the past couple of years.

In 2011, we made the unexpected decision to spend more time on long-form print projects, including supplements, posters and, most notably, a series of coffee-table books. I say unexpected because of a little thing called the digital revolution, which has sent most newspapers scrambling the other direction, away from print. While Al Bayan is investing heavily in growing its digital offering, including audio-visual and interactive content delivered online, on smart phones and tablets, we also wanted to try something different: based on our understanding of the regional market we decided to take what might seem like a step back and develop a new category of high-end print products.

Investing in long-term print projects in this day and age may seem like asking Johannes Gutenberg to produce a newspaper with his manual printing press. In Gutenberg’s times, the production of a simple copy involved an enormous production line and much effort – a process that demanded accuracy and ti me to think twice about what to print in order to preserve the knowledge on each precious page. But Al Bayan’s venture into book publishing celebrates the enduring value of print while also embracing the latest design, data visualization and production standards. We are only at the beginning of this journey and continually strive to perfect our model of bringing our research to life through visual storytelling that links print with other platforms such as smart phones, tablets and apps.

Two of the graphics included in this media book

Having invested years into building a reputation as an information architect (someone whose work combines design, journalism and marketing) I have arrived at some conclusions I am happy to share here:

– Success is based on setting a clear vision and mission for your department, on attracting and retaining professional manpower, and on efficient management using optimised resources.

The future of newspapers lies in the development of diverse products across all platforms, but there is no value in just adding more and more platforms simply to increase exposure. Don’t allow yourself to be impressed by showy projects offered by thousands of digital entrepreneurs offering nice visuals but poor contents and no strategy as to how to integrate them with the newspaper. The only way to improve our media is with quality content.

– Digital is the trend, but print is still profitable: the rise of digital is a fact that we – as print professionals – have to embrace. Yet it is smart to remember that, at least in this part of the world, the core business model of a newspaper is still very much based on print content.

The numbers count: I believe in metrics because they show me who my real audience is as well as the real size of my market share. Metrics are the best way to measure our performance and adapt accordingly.

Empower your team with training: make sure you and your team are plugged into current best practices of the media sector and encourage individuals who want to improve their skills.

– Something to remember: even if some might think this is a romantic notion, I still believe in the power of print to captivate new audiences; not least because these old “devices” are extremely easy and satisfying to browse!

 

 

Team from left to right: Ali Shandoor, GM Al Bayan,  Liz Ramos, Design Editor , Dahen Shaeen, CEO Publishing Sector of Dubai Media Inc., Luis Chumpitaz (me), Ahmed Al Hammadi, CEO Comercial Publishing Sector, Lisa Reinisch, Senior Editor, and German Fernandez, Design Editor.

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