Updating the newspaper extinction timeline for the Arab world

Yesterday I gave the opening keynote at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai, on Creating the Future of Arab Media.

My speech and a series of interviews I did afterwards have received broad coverage, including articles in Al Arabiya, Gulf Today, Huffington Post, Emirates 24/7, Zawya, and Gulf News, as well as interviews on Dubai Eye and Dubai One. I thought it was worth reviewing a few of the major points made.

The first thing to note is that my Newspaper Extinction Timeline was released in October 2010. Since then we have considerable new data, and I have also visited many of the countries on the map and gained new insights.

I do hope to do a comprehensive update of the timeline, but before a complete update I prefer to make general comments rather than change the predictions.

The most prominent development is that the Gulf nations have rapidly come from being considerably behind in Internet uptake to being, by some significant measures, world leaders. A couple of different studies have both pointed to Saudi Arabia having the highest usage of Twitter in the world, with UAE not far behind and both very active on Facebook.

Moreover, UAE and Saudi Arabia have extremely high smartphone usage, ranking at #1 and #3 respectively among major nations globally, with very high amounts of time spent on mobile internet.

While these developments suggest an earlier extinction for newspapers than originally forecast, there are countervailing forces.

One is that government support of news-on-paper for social or political reasons, particularly in Saudi Arabia, could mean their lifetime is sustained beyond their natural commercial lifetime.

In addition, the very large immigrant workforces in UAE and Saudi Arabia in particular could sustain specialist newspapers, though these would be niche markets probably without high advertising value.

I have realized that two countries that were lumped in the “2040+” category for extinction should not have been.

Qatar is highly developed and urbanized, and without explicit government support newspapers will not be sustained over the long term.

In addition Egypt, while it has large urban centers, has an urbanization rate of under 50%. Newspaper extinction should be expected in Egypt’s large cities earlier, while they will continue for a long time in rural areas.

I do hope to find time to consider these and other global developments in more detail to provide specific revisions to my forecasts before long.

I should also restate my explanation of the rationale of the timeline, and why I highly unusually offer specific predictions in this case.

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