“This is a world crisis, and a big crisis for all media operators — and mainly, those operating in print.”
Youssef Triki is publisher and communication director for Groupe Eco-Medias, the first private independent media group in Morocco. The company is using all of its resources to survive the COVID-19 impact on publishers, Triki told attendees to the INMA Africa Media Summit on Friday.
Readership in Morocco is low compared to Algeria and Tunisia due to education levels in the population — of 40 million inhabitants, only 1.2% of Moroccans are regular readers. Print circulation is key to reaching these readers, but even more important are the revenues driven by print ads, he said.
“In our business model, I would say the opposite of what’s happening in Europe and the U.S.,” Triki said. “For instance, 80% of our revenue is generated from advertising and 20% from sales, and when I say sales, that also includes subscriptions.”
During the COVID-19 lockdown, the government forbade newspaper circulation for three months. This was a significant hit for Groupe Eco-Medias titles. To stay connected with loyal readers, the company offered free access to e-paper flipbook versions of L’Economiste and Assabah during the lockdown, but removed them once circulation restrictions were lifted.
“As I said previously, 80% of revenue generated from advertising, we can’t afford to destroy or eliminate the print version,” Triki said. “This is simply not possible. We absolutely need to fight, and we need to struggle and keep going at least for more months using the full strength of print.”
Digital innovation is part of the company’s long-term strategy, but Triki said pushing to increase print subscriptions ensures job preservation and stable ad engagement with clients. Digital advertising revenues do not come close to print revenue, and the availability of free content means readers are reluctant to pay.
“In all of Africa we are so used to watching movies free, watching and listening to music free, reading newspapers, and also with the explosion of Web sites and free content….to change this habit will take time,” Triki said.
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Triki said there have been some positive outcomes. The government is heavily supporting the print sector, covering salaries and expenses for the fourth month in a row: “As a group we are almost 150 people, hopefully everything is ok for the moment. We are keeping jobs, we are developing, we are investing in some new innovations that will come up next year.”
Beyond COVID-19, Triki said one huge issue facing media is lack of trust. Trust and value are directly correlated, he added, and it is crucial to communicate the value of trustworthy print news media to readers and advertisers.
“If you want to make print alive or make it survive at least you need to communicate on the utility of print,” Triki said. “You need to communitice your historic background, on your implication on the national topics, your implication on the COVID-19 coverage, the expertise of your journalists.”
Publishers should actively address misinformation by interviewing and referencing respected, legitimate sources. Companies can also lean on the expertise of journalists, who are expert storytellers. The mix of a credible brand and talent is invaluable, Triki said.
“You have to keep saying you are a title which has history, which is credible, which is known and trusted by advertisers and readers, and is made by experts.”
To stay valuable to readers, Groupe Eco-Medias conducts yearly customer relationship studies. Readers give feedback on the type of content they want to see, though Triki said brands should take care that they do not deviate too much from their core content offering: “Diversify is good, but to a certain extent.”
Targeting can be a valuable tool to increase revenue, Triki said, especially during a time when advertisers are cutting budgets. Smart targeting by sector can help advertisers ensure they do not lose customers during the pandemic, especially though a trusted medium like print.
While print will eventually decline, Triki said, it is important to maximise the life of print and prepare for digital in the meantime. It is especially important to engage with younger audiences now in anticipation of this, he said. Though he previously did not see a threat from big digital players, it is now clear they are competition for news media. While governments work on addressing this issue, Triki said his company is already exploring innovative concepts for the future of its business.
“Right now the world is still looking for solutions,” he said. “We are waiting also for Morocco to negotiate with big companies to find a suitable deal as is already happening in Europe.”