The mass market reach of the Algerian daily newspapers was reviewed recently at the Maghreb Politics Review. I believe the main reason the dailies have had more popular success in Algeria than elsewhere in the Arab world is that they treat themselves much more like capitalist endeavourers than cultural entities. In neighbouring countries like Egypt, Morocco and the Gulf the readership is mostly confined to the cultural elite. The topics are carefully selected to give the reader a sense of intellectual superiority over the masses.
Most Algerian Arab newspapers, like Echourouk, Elkhabar and Ennahar, turned the tables on this concept, and chose instead to embrace the lowest common denominator in search for ever increasing circulation numbers (except perhaps, the government owned newspapers, which have negligible circulation in comparison). This has, obviously, the unfortunate effect of being turned towards more populism and sensationalism a.k.a Algerian version of the right wing Daily Mail. In fact, these newspapers sometimes put the Daily Mail to shame with their incredibly racist stories and caricatures, e.g. vs the local Chinese expatriates who work for Chinese construction companies. Most recently, the newspapers have just turned into sports dailies – today’s Echorouk news feed is dominated by sports headlines – all but just two.
The street price of a newspaper copy (officially 10DA, but generally can go up to 15DA in remote areas – a mere $0.1) is well below the cost of producing it. Most newspapers achieve profitably with advertising – so circulation numbers are very important. The advertising management market is dominated by the state owned Entreprise National de Publicite (ANEP), which collects advertising money from clients and distributes the adverts to the newspapers. This forces the newspapers to tread on careful lines or else the source of money is dried.
Perhaps, Elkhabar still tries to maintain a sense of intellectuality – opting instead to sometimes publish some well written reports on the state of the Algerian economy and political landscape. Its reluctance to populism is probably what made it lose its top spot as the best selling newspaper – just years ago it was dwarfing Echorouk, which was at the time, incredibly, seen as the newspaper for the intellectuals: the key element in Echorouk’s new image is the journalist turned into the Algerian version of Murdoch: Ali Faudel.
On the other hand, Elkhabar are much more successful as an enterprise. In additions to attempts to create a private printing company, they have established a country wide distribution network – KD-Press, and they are looking to seriously challenge the dominance of ANEP with their new venture: Elkhabar Pub, by creating a privately owned advertising management company. ANEP’s success was largely due to the fact that most of the clients were state owned companies, and that has changed recently. Most of the big spenders in advertising are private enterprises now. The private mobile networks Djezzy, Nedjma and Mobilis (this last soon to be privatised) compete fiercely by buying an incredible amount of newspaper ad space.
It’s also worthy to note that while they sell incredibly well, the authenticity of the popular newspaper is well known to be shoddy: a popular saying in Algeria is that reading a newspaper nullifies your Wudu (Ablution). There is also the decades old fear of the outside: the top newspapers are rumoured to use external expertise from the Untied States in the form of highly paid consultants. Speculation about the owners of the papers runs rampant – from business tycoons to army generals.
The lack of space on other media, such as radio and television, has certainly not hurt the newspapers either. However, pressure is mounting on the government to open up the audio visual space, with Echorouk positioning themselves well to create a new television station should the chance come by running an internet only channel on Youtube. Should this space be opened, there is no reason not to believe that it will be as vibrant as the newspaper space, given that other channels, such as the MBC and ART are eager to more affectively enter the Algerian market.