Saturday, June 12, 2010

Arif Nizami's Revenge

Some might be nonplussed that yet another English daily is gearing up to hit the market. Is there really such a big market for English language papers? I mean, we already have Dawn, The News, The Nation, Daily Times, the Express Tribune, Business Recorder, et al. Not to mention the scores of smaller regional English papers such as Balochistan Times, Frontier Post, Pakistan Observer, Sindh Tribune etc. What possible niche could a new paper be trying to fill?

The recent Express Tribune experiment certainly would not inspire confidence among marketing types. Sources indicate that despite its superior production values, ET's subscription base is still well under 1,000 copies, of which some 155 were previous subscribers to the International Herald Tribune anyway. (It should be pointed out that the official circulation figures of all newspapers, including English market leaders such as Dawn and The News are wildly exaggerated, often up to 3 or 4 times their reality - The News' subscription base in Karachi, e.g. is estimated to be under 5,000 copies though it has higher circulation in Islamabad; however, ET's figures are quite low by comparative standards and even taking into consideration the fact that ET is still a new paper.) In fact, there are indications of some panic within the Lakhani publishing house even before the launch of ET in Lahore and Islamabad, precisely because of the feedback from newspaper agents.

Nevertheless, the gears are churning for the former The Nation editor Arif Nizami to bring his promised baby into the market. Pakistan Today, as it will be called, has already placed advertisements in Dawn to recruit staffers and is in addition going a slightly unconventional route by also advertising positions on job hunt sites on the net. More on this in a bit.

What we do know so far about Pakistan Today is the following: it definitely has the financial backing of Pakistan's richest businessman, Mian Mohammad Mansha, who of course made his money in the textile sector and owns among other things, Muslim Commercial Bank. It is also said to have investment from London-based millionaire Izzat Majeed who made his fortunes in the petrochemicals sector in Saudi Arabia. The new media group which will publish the paper is to be called the Nawa Media Corporation and

"...intends to bring out a series of publications – in both English and vernacular languages – and also make a foray in electronic media in due course."

One can understand this project being crucial for Arif Nizami's ego and credibility (remember he promised to start his own paper when he was sacked by uncle Majeed Nizami from The Nation). But perhaps as we surmised with ET, there are reasons beyond simple business logic for other people to climb on to the media bandwagon.

We also know the following:

1. That Pakistan Today is set to be a three-city newspaper, like Dawn and The News and (eventually) ET to be published simultaneously from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad though the head office will naturally be in Lahore.
2. That ex-Karachi bureau chief of The Nation, Javed Mahmood, has been appointed the Resident Editor in Karachi, formally labeled Editor-in-Charge.
3. That former Lahore Press Club president Sarmad Bashir has also joined the team.
4. That, according to the website (I am not linking it here since the site apparently hosts some dangerous malware that may harm your computer), the office of the paper in Karachi will be in the infamous Kawish Crown building on Shahrah-e-Faisal (Some may recall that the building is reputed to be owned by a notorious Mumbai don and has been the target not only of litigation by civil society groups for its alleged contravention of building laws, but also a couple of bomb attacks by unknown people.)

Now, coming to the net-based recruitment drive, here is a job listing for Pakistan Today on one such website. According to the description of the paper on the site:

"Headed by one of the most credible names in Pakistan’s newspaper industry Mr Arif Nizami, Pakistan Today has among other personalities of high net worth, the financial support and backing of the best-known corporate entity in the country – Mian Mohammad Mansha. Post-modern and contemporary in its outlook, Pakistan Today will espouse core values of independence, authenticity and credibility. With its fresh and vibrant approach, it will definitely make a huge impact on our polity and create a broad-based readership that cuts across all segments of the society.

Pakistan Today is an equal opportunity employer that values merit and professionalism. At our website you can explore new career opportunities, meet our key people and learn about the culture and working environment at our organisation.We offer unique opportunities for recent college and university graduates, as well as for talented professionals who are looking for a more dynamic experience. There are numerous opportunities across the entire organisation where your skills and talent can make a difference - to you and to us."

This particular ad is to recruit News Editors for Islamabad and Karachi. Slightly unsettling is the requirement that the News Editors (the most senior position in a daily after the Editor) need only be educated up to Intermediate / A-Level. One understands that some of the most best news editors Pakistan has seen had no formal degree qualifications but a wealth of hands-on experience and that finding good staff is a challenge in the best of times. But what is bizarre is that while News Editors and Senior Sub-editors need only be educated up until Intermediate / A-Levels, Reporters and District Correspondents, whose copies they will be editing and vetting, must be at least graduates.

Obviously the June 2010 stated launch date for the paper is also not going to be met. So far, from the evidence of the recruitment drive, the paper still seems many months away from being launched. No information so far on what might be a realistic timeline.

The bigger question still remains: is there space for another English language paper? Or is this basically an attempt to wipe out The Nation and Majeed Nizami's right-wing Nazariya-e-Pakistan philosophy? Not that that would be such a bad thing in and of itself, mind you.


Anonymous said...

I think you are overestimating ET's sales. My sources tell me the figure for paid, as opposed to free, copies is closer to 650-700. Which, as you point out, is pretty bad news for anyone thinking of entering this treacherous area of publishing.
Arif Nizami certainly has backers with deep pockets, but where exactly is his product aiming to pitch itself to differentiate itself from the competition? And to tell the truth, I can't exactly see anything new and dynamic coming out from what is essentially the heart of the Punjab establishment. But then I may be wrong and in for a real shock. Let's wait and see

Market Guy said...

Dawn remains to be the largest circulated daily in Pakistan with an approximate circulation of 1,39,000 (official).
The News' declared circulation is 80,000, whereas The Nation is at number three.
I think Pakistan Today will gun for both The Nation and ET as well as break a few from The News,

Anonymous said...

For starters, Mr Lakhani is no less rich than Arif Nizami's backers. Besides from what i hear Mian Mansha and Izzat Majeed are minor shareholders in pakistan Today and Arif Nizami has put more than just his credibility and ego at stake.
Also ET's circulation figures are encouraging and people at the helm of affairs realize that changing old habits will take some more time.
Lastly, with the present quality of Englsih newspapers in pakistan, a lot needs to be desired both in terms of Substance and style.
i think both ET and Pakistan Today stand a great chance!

Umair said...

Is this Mansha's first venture into the media industry?

Anonymous said...

The Nation is indeed full of right wing rubbish.And The News is much too annoying.But I guess this new paper is hardly likely to be any better.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure why PT placed that ad for newsroom staff. As far as i know they already have on board a pretty decent team (mostly ex-Daily Times). Anyways, I for one was impressed by their recruitment ad in dawn and also their online career portal.
ET is by far the best looking paper in Pakistan and i feel their content is also improving by the day. Hope readers give it a fair chance!

takhalus said...

pyalaites ever thought about doing a piece on the rise and fall of the frontier Post?

Speaking of which is there anyone out there who has any of Yusuf Lodhis old cartoons i think they should be put on line..

Zeenia said...

Hi Market Guy!! This is just for my own information. Could you pls tell where you got the figures on newspaper circulation from? According to my understanding, the Audit Bureau of Circulation, associated with the Press Info Dept maintains most accurate data on the circulation of newspapers and other publications in Pakistan. However, there is an agreement between the newspaper owners and the PID that these figures would not be made public.

This is, as I said, just to add to my own knowledge. Pls let me know your source on newspaper circulation. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

With the poor quality of the newspapers here, the fact that there IS a need for one more is self explanatory....Express made their mark with both the Urdu paper and their channel but they are so off with the English paper that its not even funny. A newspaper needs to be firstly and formostly- A newspaper. ET reads more like a glorified Tabliod . Its a Ferrari with the Engine of a Mountain bike .
Why people think Dawn is the best newspaper is a mystery to me - just because people are used to a certain newspaper should not be reason enough for it to stay in the market as a leader for so long but i guess thats the NEWS' fault .. pound for pound News is a much better paper (barring the newsroom mistakes) and its the only paper which can give Dawn a run for its money (Face it- Nation is a joke but then with a senile delinquent calling all the shots and a failed politition as the Prime minister in this banana republic of a paper, you really cant blame the Nation team... and Daily Times is really nothing without A) Najam Sethi and B) Sunday Times) but the fact that News has been unable to capture the Karachi Market is a huge failure on their part.
Money will keep rolling in the print media as long as Brand managers have marketing budgets to spend and thus the Space (please not i said space here-the need will come) for a paper is justified. A good paper - Style with Substance (Hear that Mr Junior Lakhani- there is a thing called substance ) is the NEED for the day and Arif Nizami, if he gets it right, just might be able to give us that - if not -hey- theres always the telly!

aynalif said...

While a print newspaper will continue to be read by the 40 somethings and above, as ET has found to its dismay, people are not willing to shell out Rs25 for it. Even today's DAWN is a trifle expensive with a Rs22 price tag but the raddi wala will probably give me back Rs5 as the Sunday paper weighs 300gms. (Haven't sold raddi in a while so my calculations may be a little off!)

Perhaps it is time someone took the initiative and came out with a quality broadsheet and distributed it free of cost. From what you all seem to be confident about, it will just take 5,000 copies to become the No.2 newspaper in Karachi. (What is DAWN's circ?) And that will not make any dent in the pockets of Mr Mansha or Mr Izzat Majeed.

Make it colorful and give it free. Those who are using up their pension to subscribe to DAWN will switch. Those who never bought a newspaper because it did not look kool will also pick it up and read the captions below the color photographs while using it as a dastarkhan for their burger lunch. And when Gallup comes along to do a survey of the reading habits of Pakistanis they will determine that the average age of this free broadsheet's readers is around 30 and it is equally popular among the youth and the old fogies. The media planners who now seem to rely on statistics will start allocating advertising budgets for this rag and it will become a rip roaring commercial success.

Just one caveat though - if the newspaper delivery wala decides to get rid of the middleman and takes it directly to the raddi wala ...

Anonymous said...

Thank you Aynalif... you just summed up what every person who wants to start any publication of any kind first thinks and the conclusion he then comes up with after he's thought about it for a minute or two.

Kudos !!!! your ability to think and then state the obvious is amazing !

Anonymous said...

BTW, did anyone see how ET did not print Ali Sethi's Op-Ed in IHT on Ahmedis and just left a big gaping hole on Page 6? What the hell is that about? Not wanting to offend their readers by sympathizing with Ahmedis or they just refuse to print anything by Najam Sethi and his offspring?

Printer said...

This is a joke. I am 200% sure that none of you has ever worked in the press or the circulation department of any newspaper. Dawn alone prints 100,000 plus copies in Khi. News and DT would also be close to the 10,000 figure even though they claim much more than this.
5000 plus and you are no 2 is outright rubbish.

Anonymous said...

hahahahha.... Printer, i have worked in a Multi National as a Marketeer, A research house that also deals with newspapers and its circulation and in two newspapers ... i am now sure YOU have nothing to do with any paper .... and if you do ,,,, God help your paper!

Anonymous said...

What about websites? Apart from News and DT, why don't Dawn and ET (which have very good web presence) use their websites for ads? Surely in this day and age, print circulation coupled with web hits collectively measures a paper's reader base. I don't understand why Pakistani English newspapers don't put together a better business model for their websites

know it all said...

I agree with the last anon above. There is also a lot of web readership abroad and I have heard people tell me that Dawn and ET have good websites and it is painful to be on DT and News in comparison. Though I do agree that ET desperately needs more substance and Dawn is very boring.

Habib said...

Well all i know is that we are missing a good english paper..Dawn is good but again one has to be old to read sure PT stands very good chances to stand against dawn

AI said...

Personally, I feel Express Tribune is doing a very good job in promoting newer and fresher faces to write for them. They seem much balanced and professional in their approach compared to The Nation, The News and sadly now, Dawn.
Sales will and should go up for them, but has anyone seen the traffic on their website?