Passing of ArabianMoney a sad indictment of the digital era

In the good old days of print journalism on Fleet Street, the closure of a newspaper title was such a rare event as to be almost shocking.

In my time there, some 25 years or so at some of the biggest titles in the world, I can count perhaps three title closures. Each was the result of some slowly changing market trend that finally overwhelmed the title.

It was natural for journalists and printers to be sad at the demise of their publication, but back then even the management seemed to have regrets, as though they had prematurely ended a life. Certainly, the bosses mourned the loss as keenly as the staff in the extravagant “wake” ceremonies.

I don’t detect such a sense of loss in the digital age. Websites come and websites go, and, if they ever crossed your consciousness in the first place, they usually departed it fairly quickly after closure. Sometimes you never even realised they were gone.

That will not be the case with ArabianMoney, the financial news and commentary website launched and run by my old pal Peter Cooper, who is also regular contributor to The National. Its demise was announced officially on Twitter yesterday, but its passing will be a source of regret and soul-searching in the UAE publishing business.

It’s not as if Peter knew nothing about online publishing when he started the site five years ago. He has already launched, established and sold (for a handsome sum) the website AMEInfo. So he knows about the commercial side of the publishing business.

The content was always worth the login. Peter’s own brand of down-to-earth realism when it came to assessing financial or real estate markets combined with a genuine enthusiasm for the business scene in the UAE.

He explained in his farewell tweet it was the changing structural landscape of the publishing and advertising sectors that did it for ArabianMoney, and this is why its demise is significant.

“To some extent ArabianMoney is a microcosm of the problems facing the entire publishing industry at the moment,” writes Peter in his valediction. “Over the past five years the internet has become the dominant medium for delivering this media, and it has come at a high price in terms of lost advertising revenue. Blame Google and the commoditisation of advertising on the internet.”

Media agencies buy bundles of advertising banners by the million from Google, and big ticket advertisers – like the banks and brokers who would be natural advertisers on ArabianMoney – are unwilling to pay more for a specific slot on the website.

That trend, and the cost of running the website, were what did for the title. “It’s a total myth that websites are cheap to run. The technology behind the site has to be updated, maintained and organised by a professional webmaster, or the whole show can come crashing down,” he explains.

It is the result of “disruptive” technology, he says. Many business professionals – consultants, authors, forecasters – wax lyrical about the benefits of the disruption, but I have always thought it was a strange concept.

Disruption might be inevitable, but it is not desirable. Surely the aim of business theory should be to avoid it wherever possible and minimise its effects, rather than welcome and encourage it?

Whatever the reason, the passing of ArabianMoney is a matter for regret. Surely the fast-growing and ambitious financial industry in the UAE deserves such a media outlet?

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