Cairo- In the past, the cries of newspaper sellers resounded in the streets of Cairo: “Ahram,” “Akhbar,” “Gomhouria.” Today, Umm Muhammad is almost alone in front of a small rectangular table stacked with various editions of Egyptian newspapers and publications, but no customers come. to buy.
On a street in Dokki district in Greater Cairo, Umm Mohamed, sitting on her wooden chair, says that the movement of selling newspapers “has never been the same again, especially since the price hike.”
The loss of many Egyptians’ passion for reading newspapers threatens the continuity of paper newspapers, and thus the profession of street vendors or in kiosks in the Egyptian capital.
And the fifty-year-old woman, who wore a woolen shawl to protect against the winter cold, continues, “I earn only 15 pounds ($0.95) while sitting here from six in the morning until three in the afternoon.”
In 2019, the National Press Authority decided to increase the prices of newspapers by one pound, bringing the price of the daily newspaper to 3 pounds and the weekly issue to 4 pounds in a country where the average monthly income of the family is about 6 thousand pounds, according to official data. The aim was to compensate for losses due to the rising costs of raw materials for the industry such as inks and paper in exchange for a sharp drop in the rate of distribution and a decline in subscriptions.
The government, which owns most of the paper editions in Egypt, has worked to merge some of them or convert them to electronic ones, but Umm Muhammad explains that the reluctance to buy newspapers has increased a lot after canceling some of the evening editions of newspapers.
Goodbye to the evening papers
Last July, Egypt bid farewell to the famous evening newspapers “Al-Massa”, “Al-Akhbar Al-Masaa’i” and “Al-Ahram Al-Massa’i”, with a decision by the National Press Authority to convert the evening paper editions to electronic ones, always with the aim of reducing losses.
Near the newspaper table, Tariq Mahmoud, a minibus driver, is waiting for customers. He tells AFP that he hasn’t bought a newspaper in 11 years.
“I stopped buying since I found out that the journalist who writes for the newspaper is the same person who presents a program on television,” adds the 44-year-old driver. “I feel that many people like me have also stopped buying newspapers.”
From his office in the headquarters of the famous “Rose El-Youssef” weekly magazine in central Cairo, its editor-in-chief Ahmed Al-Tahri proposes finding new distribution points, such as pharmacies, given the constant frequency of citizens, especially in light of the spread of the “Covid-19” epidemic.
Al-Tahri attributes some of the problems faced by newspaper sellers to the lack of an entity or union that regulates the profession.
Umm Muhammad, who has been practicing her profession for more than 18 years, says that she and some newspaper sellers pay “simple deposits every month in Al-Ahram (institution)”, so that they can get a pension after they stop working.
At the end of January, the head of the National Press Authority, Abd al-Sadiq al-Shorbagy, revealed in a Senate meeting that the total debts accumulated by the press institutions of both the Social Security Authority and the Tax Authority exceeded 9 billion pounds (about 573 million dollars), including interests.
In Egypt, there are 8 governmental press institutions, including “Al-Ahram”, “Akhbar Al-Youm”, “Dar Al-Tahrir” and “Rose Al-Youssef”. Many newspapers, publications and magazines are published daily, weekly and monthly.
According to the latest statistics of the Central Agency for Mobilization and Statistics in Egypt, the number of public newspapers in the country recorded 67 newspapers at the end of 2019, compared to 142 newspapers in 2010.
The total daily circulation of these newspapers also decreased to 539,000 copies by the end of 2019, after it had exceeded one million copies in 2010.
Umm Muhammad says, “It’s the mobile… When people pass in front of me, they ask: Is there anyone who sells newspapers yet?… Everything is on the Internet.” Then she continued, in a sad tone, “I am upset when I hear these words.. this eats our livelihood, what do we do?”
Al-Tahri comments on the decline of the paper press in the face of its electronic counterpart and social media platforms, saying, “The paper press in the world has become an elitist press that liberates from news and presents the reader with new dimensions.”
The editor-in-chief of the independent “Al-Shorouk” newspaper, Imad Al-Din Hussein, attributes the reasons for the newspaper’s loss of luster to the development of the means of presentation in the world, and says, “If there was a free way to obtain news… I would not buy the newspaper.”
He added, “The content in the Egyptian press has become very miserable and almost the same… Therefore, what will prompt a reader to buy a newspaper that contains nothing?” Almost all independent and governmental Egyptian newspapers are similar in content, and their front pages are filled with news of presidential speeches or ministerial statements.
He continues, “If the current picture continues in terms of industry and content, most paper newspapers will disappear.”