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“My Smart Newspaper”… From Dubai With Love: Tomorrow’s Print Newspaper. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Faisal Salem Bin Haider, CEO, Printing & Distribution Sector, Dubai Media Inc.

April 21, 2015

“By creating My Smart Newspaper, with its 16 pages, the reader will be able to spend 10 or 15 minutes to get a summary of everything that’s in the market today through a small, compact newspaper, and at the same time has the feel and look that only print can deliver. You are getting all the information with no waste whatsoever. No waste in paper and no waste of the readers time… it is a win-win situation.” Faisal Salem Bin Haider

Imagine It's 2020 Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Imagine it’s 2020, that was the theme of the 10th WAN-IFRA, the international newspaper association, Middle East Conference in Dubai, The United Arab Emirates. I was a speaker at, and an attendee of, the conference. One of the presentations, My Smart Newspaper, caught my attention and made me think: why wait to 2020 when the future here in Dubai seems to have started yesterday, if not yesteryear.

My Smart Newspaper is a project of Dubai Media Inc.’s Masar Printing and Publishing, an arm of the Government of Dubai under the leadership and vision of Shaikh Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

My curiosity got the best of me and I was fascinated by the idea of My Smart Newspaper and at the same time had tons of questions. For the first time during a media conference I was seeing and hearing someone considering the promotion of the future of print in a digital age. After all, when I started the Magazine Innovation Center at The University of Mississippi in 2009, the tag line for the center was, is, and will continue to be, “Amplifying the Future of Print in A Digital Age.”

Mr. Faisal Salem Bin Haider, CEO, Printing & Distribution Sector, Dubai Media Inc.

Mr. Faisal Salem Bin Haider, CEO, Printing & Distribution Sector, Dubai Media Inc.

So, as soon the conference was over, I reached out to Masar Printing and Publishing and requested a visit and an interview with its CEO Mr. Faisal Salem Bin Haider, CEO of Printing and Distribution. My main conversation with him centered on the My Smart Newspaper project, but he was also gracious enough to fill me in on the history of Masar Printing and Publishing facilities that occupy a space of 50,000 square meters (almost 540,000 square feet), equivalent to 7 soccer fields…

After the tour of Masar’s very impressive facilities, I sat down with Mr. Faisal for this Mr. Magazine™Interview that I am sure you will find as informative, captivating, and delightful as I did.

But first the sound bites:

On the concept of My Smart Newspaper: I am sure that you know why we need to go to a smart platform today. We are bombarded with news, newspapers, magazines, digital platforms, etc.; in newspapers alone, each newspaper arrives with at least 80 pages daily. Add to that mobile news arriving every second of the day. We believe that the reader will go through only 10 or 20 pages max of useful information from any newspaper they receive, with the other pages of content going to waste. The readers’ time and interests are of an essence.

On how the transformation will help My Smart Newspaper: The idea starts with building the readers’ profiles and matching that profile with the wants and desires of the readers. We found out that there are four major areas folks are interested in: front page news, columnists, certain specific information and thumbnails of different newspapers.

On the goal of My Smart Newspaper: The goal of My Smart Newspaper is to match the reader’s profile with the content of the printed newspaper. My Smart Newspaper will also have your name and picture with all the pertinent information related to the reader’s profile.

On the fact that a printer came up with this editorial-type innovation: As you know, we are not only printers, but also publishers. We started with Al-Bayan newspaper where I started in 1990 working in the pre-press department. We are so tight with our publishers and we are always coming up with ideas to improve on the quality of the printed product.

On why they invested so much time and money on new printing machines: Today we are in a much better scenario than we were before. We started investing in 2007, before the crisis of 2008; we had already placed the order for the machines. At that time, yes, it was challenging. Many people in the market liked our business model, but as you know; we are in Dubai. In Dubai, we are always thinking ahead.

On whether it takes a lot of guts to swim against the current: Actually, on this subject, digital, most of us came from the IT side into this in the 1990s, so from the beginning we would like to go digital and we learned the offset on these traditional printing machines maybe a few years back. But we always believed that digital should succeed.

On when My Smart Newspaper will become a reality instead of a dream waiting in the wings: Soon, I think. It isn’t cheap. I recently briefed a publisher about the concept and he said, wow, that’s good. Key people in the government, this is what they want; all of them. The challenge will be with the publishers. Are they willing or not to team up to provide this service?

On anything else he’d like to add: The main thing about this technology is the possibilities. This is what has driven us. To make a change you have to really think out of the box. And this is something that we’re really working on and the technology helps us and the cost is becoming more reasonable.

On what keeps him up at night: (Laughs) I’m always thinking about our business.

And now for the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Mr. Faisal Salem Bin Haider, CEO of Printing & Distribution Sector, Dubai Media Inc.

Samir Husni: Would you please tell me about the concept of “My Smart Newspaper.”

Faisal Salem Bin Haider: I am sure that you know why we need to go to a smart platform today. We are bombarded with news, newspapers, magazines, digital platforms, etc.; In newspapers alone, each newspaper arrives with at least 80 pages daily. Add to that mobile news arriving every second of the day. We believe that the reader will go through only 10 or 20 pages max of useful information from any newspaper they receive, with the other pages of content going to waste. The readers’ time and interests are of an essence.

So, for that reason, and as you know, today we arrived to a very high-end digital printing machines with acceptable ratings and good quality. We do not believe that the newspaper will die, but we believe we have to become smarter in creating our newspapers.

The idea of My Smart Newspaper started with the simple premise: why don’t we create a paper as the reader would create the paper and not as a publisher. The days when the reader depended on the publisher to tell them what content they need to read are limited, if not gone. Today the reader has many different sources of information. Newspapers, TV’s, agencies, blogs; there are just too many to count. So we said, why don’t we curate all this information on paper, compact it, and produce a 16- page-newspaper on average in which the readers can get the daily articles and content that they prefer.

Digital printing has come of age. Today in Switzerland they’re installing a digital machine that will produce maybe 25,000 daily copies of a newspaper. They moved from web offset to digital. The trend is to move from offset to digital. Digital will make My Smart Newspaper real.

Samir Husni: Can you please explain a little bit more on how this transformation is going to help My Smart Newspaper?

The front page of the prototype issue of My Smart Newspaper.

The front page of the prototype issue of My Smart Newspaper.

Faisal Salem Bin Haider: Well, as print publishers and publishers of two major dailies, we asked ourselves why can’t we be different? What and how can we offer readers more in this digital age? What’s the readers’ preference? How can we put those preferences in a platform that the readers want.

For example, if a reader just wants to read the front page of a specific newspaper, the columns from another paper and the sports section of yet another paper, our idea is learn as much as possible about that reader, create a profile about that reader and create a physically printed newspaper. I know that some are offering such services on the web and on the tablet, but here we are more focused on the look and feel of the platform, and because we know the newspaper, and we know how to built it, the final product we will be a newspaper, however it will be my individualized newspaper. That look and feel can never be created on the internet.

So the idea starts with building the readers’ profiles and matching that profile with the wants and desires of the readers. We found out that there are four major areas folks are interested in: front page news, columnists, certain specific information and thumbnails of different newspapers.

Samir Husni: What is the goal of My Smart Newspaper?

Faisal Salem Bin Haider: The goal of My Smart Newspaper is to match the reader’s profile with the content of the printed newspaper. My Smart Newspaper will also have your name and picture with all the pertinent information related to the reader’s profile.

By creating My Smart Newspaper, with its 16 pages, the reader will be able to spend 10 or 15 minutes to get a summary of everything that’s in the market today through a small, compact newspaper, and at the same time has the feel and look that only print can deliver. You are getting all the information with no waste whatsoever. No waste in paper and no waste of the readers time… it is a win win situation.

Samir Husni: What’s fascinating to me is you’re a printer; how did this whole idea of My Smart Newspaper come about? Rather than coming from a publisher, it’s coming from a printer. What’s in it for you?

Faisal Salem Bin Haider: As you know, we are not only printers, but also publishers. We started with Al-Bayan newspaper where I started in 1990 working in the pre-press department. We are so tight with our publishers and we are always coming up with ideas to improve on the quality of the printed product. From utilizing our printing machines to their best capacity, to ensuring that we are meeting the needs of the publishers to create a competitive product without great cost or sacrificing the quality. So in short, we work very close with the publishers almost on a daily basis.

In the office of Mr. Faisal Salem Bin Haider with Hala Hatem, director, sales and marketing and Samer Sabri Abdel Qader, director, pre-press & digital

In the office of Mr. Faisal Salem Bin Haider with Hala Hatem, director, sales and marketing and Samer Sabri Abdel Qader, director, pre-press & digital

Samir Husni: I just took a tour of the printing plant and it looks as though you’ve invested a lot, in terms of new machines. Are you out of your minds? People tell us that print is on its way out; why are you investing so much in new printing machines, both commercial and newspapers?

Faisal Salem Bin Haider: Today we are in a much better scenario than we were before. We started investing in 2007, before the crisis of 2008; we had already placed the order for the machines. At that time, yes, it was challenging. Many people in the market liked our business model, but as you know; we are in Dubai. In Dubai, we are always thinking ahead.

So, from the beginning when we studied the market, we built our list on the budget, which started maybe with $150 million as the initial fund to serve in the international market at that time. The international market based on a newspaper, as you know, and also in the commercial world of magazines and such. So, from that perspective we went big. Why? Let’s go one step back.

At that time, we studied the market, we found that there were maybe 500 printers in U.A.E., in small warehouses, one or two presses here and there, and they called themselves printers. So, we asked ourselves whether we should compete (Laughs) with this red ocean or should we go to the blue ocean.

From that moment on, we said that we would not go with the small machines; we’ll go with the big machines. For that reason we went with the, as you can see in the newspaper press, 16 towers at the same time. On the commercial also, we went with the big web machine, which can print and bind 48 pages in one stroke.

When we ordered these big machines, many people asked us what we were doing, but they don’t know the business. We have a faith that those big machines are good business and good for the business. From there, if we didn’t have these machines, we would not have survived during that time.

Today when we have one of our customers spending his week working on what emotions they want to do, the art work, whatever, but when he’s ready to create and print his content, he wants it to be in the market in one hour…(Laughs)

This big commercial press gives them an advantage. They can get 50,000 copies in one hour in the market. So, this machine can produce a 48 page magazine in one stroke. That is the advantage and that is the reason we decided to go big.

Today, we are celebrating the success. Everybody now knows that was the right move from the beginning.

Interviewing Mr. Faisal Salem Bin Haider

Interviewing Mr. Faisal Salem Bin Haider

Samir Husni: When I started the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi, the tagline was “Amplifying the Future of Print in a Digital Age.” And you are a prime example of that. You are actually working on amplifying the future of print using all the digital technology and the latest in the printing technologies that are out there. Does it take a lot of guts to swim against the current?

Faisal Salem Bin Haider: Actually, on this subject, digital, most of us came from the IT side into this in the 1990s, so from the beginning we would like to go digital and we learned the offset on these traditional printing machines maybe a few years back. But we always believed that digital should succeed.

Since 2008 in Drupa (Drupa Print Media Fair) we were seriously working on that. From that time when the digital machines’ makers were invading Drupa, people would come to us and say that they believed we had a big setup and we would like to put our machine on your premises and share the revenues.

In that time it was good news, something given as though a gift. What’s next? If the machine is here, that’s good, but can we sell that type of printing to our clients? At that time, we were doing the visibility studies about digital and digital printing at that time, the answer was no no, we cannot, sell that type of digital printing.

We continued studying this market until we reached 2014 and then we knew it was the time. The time had come when we could successfully implement this business.

Samir Husni: When do you think we’ll see My Smart Newspaper a reality, rather than a dream waiting in the wings?

Faisal Salem Bin Haider: Soon, I think. It isn’t cheap. I recently briefed a publisher about the concept and he said, wow, that’s good. Key people in the government, this is what they want; all of them. The challenge will be with the publishers. Are they willing or not to team up to provide this service?

Today, most of the online content is lifted from its original providers and it seems nobody can do anything with the digital theft. We can’t be like digital. We have to ensure we have permissions to republish the articles, columns, pictures, etc. Some people say this is a crazy idea, but we believe that sometimes out of a crazy idea, a great one is coming.

Yes, today we are telling publishers that the machine is real; we are here to help; let’s sit together and see how we can build this together.

What I think is it will be something like the Newspaper Direct; if you want to read a daily newspaper from anywhere in the world, you can read it online or you can print it. This is the same concept that I’m thinking about today. Today we can build this in Dubai. We will build the portal. In this portal, any reader can build his preference. Then we will have another printer, another hub, in any city; in all of those cities we will have it. This is what we believe; this business model will start penetrating this market. The reader will have all his preferences on his card, think of it as an airline’s frequent flyer card with all your preferences stored in it, from the type of food you like to the seat preference. So, this is his newspaper. When he’s on the plane he can get his Smart newspaper.

Samir Husni: The more I think about it; people go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, they know she’s there, but then they get surprised by all the other beautiful treasures. So, you have your preferences with the Smart Newspaper and then you surprise them with other areas that fit that same preference.

Faisal Salem Bin Haider: I’ve always thought the sky is the limit. If you are traveling to a different city, maybe something may come with some dynamic information from that city.

Samir Husni: NewspaperDirect was amazing to me. When I was speaking in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and I checked into the hotel, they gave me a list of all the newspapers so I could choose which newspaper I wanted at my hotel room door in the mornings. So, I picked one from Lebanon. But you are taking this concept one step further. I love the idea of the airline frequent flyer card and all the preferences. We know you like Real Madrid and politics from this region and…

Faisal Salem Bin Haider: Yes, they will have your account on the portal. The hotel chains can use this portal, so all you’ll have to do is give them your account number, and then they will use your account to produce your newspaper. All the information is there.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Faisal Salem Bin Haider: The main thing about this technology is the possibilities. This is what has driven us. To make a change you have to really think out of the box. And this is something that we’re really working on and the technology helps us and the cost is becoming more reasonable.

To make the dream come true, when we went through this project, we bought an excellent machine, a very fast machine, 300 meters per minute. Then on the finishing part, we were thinking should we go cheap or average. So, there were some options on the printing side. But we went with the high-end; it’s very expensive, the only fold-up that can do inline finishing, the gluing and stitching; everything. We decided to go with the speed of the machine if we want to present this idea of commercial on the hardware side.

We asked ourselves what is the core business of our initiative; it is the portal. The portal could be smart and dynamic. And we want the person who will use the portal to be able to understand the newspaper. We want to keep the feeling of the paper; I want the reader to say this is a paper, not online. So, for that reason we worked with a specialized company out of Lebanon, Layout International, they are international and dominate a big market share with most of the content management systems for newspapers. Today all our newspapers in Dubai are using their system. We told them this is what we want; we can easily get information from online, but we want to have a full page. This is why we need to work closer with the publisher. And today they’re working with us too and we all want to make this business successful.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Faisal Salem Bin Haider: (Laughs) I’m always thinking about our business.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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