Gulf News paywall: A gateway to trusted news

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Gulf News has crossed a new frontier and achieved a milestone in the UAE’s publishing industry with the launch of its online paid subscription model yesterday.

The media house has always been a leader in the region, be it in content, innovation or market share.

Abdul Hamid Ahmad

Gulf News CEO, Editor-in-Chief and Executive Director of Publishing, Abdul Hamid Ahmad, elaborates on the decision to go behind a paywall in an interview. He explains what the step means for the reader, the business, and how it is not a wall but “a gateway to trusted, credible and verified news”.

He explained that the paywall guarantees a reader protection against fake news and click bait content, while providing a positive reading experience.

Behind the decision to launch a paywall

The decision to go behind a paywall and to charge for our online content was taken a while ago. It is no longer possible for us — or for that matter any other news organisation — to carry on offering their content for free, while we witness, regionally and globally, an increasing decline in revenues coming in from advertising.

This is not a mere trend but a reality that media houses have to accept and are forced to comply with. As a leading news organisation for the past 42 years, Gulf News has always sold content through its print editions. And we continue to do so.

We were offering our high quality content online for free for the longest time, when the print revenue gave us the freedom to do so. But, that is on the decline, as can be seen the world over. This is the prime reason that publishing houses across Asia, Europe and the US are all either launching online subscriptions or have already done so. As the new challenge of the coronavirus pandemic arrived, we found that innovation was the only way forward. We had to change, adapt and go ahead with the subscription process.

More value for readers

When it comes to readers there are a few key factors that will define your success as a media house, top among them remains content. This is why we always say, “content is king”. As we competed for years with our print editions and always stayed number one when it came to readership, credibility and quality of content, similarly we have, over the past few years provided our online readers with news that is first to market, complemented by in-depth multi-media coverage and information-packed stories which go beyond the news.

In fact, the digital paywall is not a wall to prevent people from reading but is a gateway for trusted, credible and verified news. By setting this digital subscription in place, we protect our readers from fake news, clickbait and low quality advertising. It is a gateway to quality journalism and a quality reading experience.

What happens to the existing print subscribers? Will they get a special rate for the digital subscription?
We value the loyalty shown by our print readers to the Gulf News brand. And, in recognition of that we will offer one year’s free online subscription to our existing print subscribers.

Growing digital traffic

We know for a fact that our readers appreciate and like our content. The evidence of that is our growing traffic — month after month, day after day. Our page views now average 230 million and unique visitors 15 million, monthly. We find that we have what you call ‘sticky online readers’, people we are proud to call our loyal Gulf News readers.

Well-established tradition of quality journalism

I understand that these facts alone might not be justification for us to go behind a paywall and charge the reader because when he or she comes online, they need to see something unique, something that gives them even higher value for their money. And that’s what we have done by adding extra sections that will be a must-read for any subscriber in the UAE and beyond.

All this newly added niche content will continue to be based on the same ethics of journalism that we have believed in and always followed as journalists. Essentially, we are continuing with our tradition of quality journalism.

Expectations as a news organisation

We can’t state our expectations now, because these are uncharted waters. A new frontier — as this is the first time ever in the region, wherein a big newspaper like Gulf News has opted to go behind a paywall.

But we are confident that, as always, we will learn from this, as we have learned previously when achieving market leadership. We will learn and build on it for the future. And I am sure that other media houses will follow suit, if they have to survive, unless, of course, they are supported by external entities. It’s a turning point for our business and we understand from others, globally, that it will take time to reach our goals but there is no other option but to go for online subscription.

Implications for the ad industry and region’s media

When it comes to paid content, the sales and advertising industry is always sceptical. In fact, we have seen that despite incredibly high digital traffic, the commensurate revenue has not come in. And this is having an impact on the quality of advertising too. But, I have a positive market outlook when it comes to the paywall, it will work well. Once you have paid subscribers, it will mean a targeted market that advertisers can optimise and utilise more effectively.

As for the media in the country, this is a giant step. Gulf News has always been a leader in driving changes in the UAE media industry through history, by introducing several first steps such as launching the tabloid newspaper format to evolving into the Berliner, and from glossy to full colour pages. Now we are stepping into a new era of the digital world, where we are leading – we have an engaged social media audience of over 5.4 million.

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