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Translating a vision into reality
Interview with Fatih Altayli, editor in chief of Haberturk
Malik: Mr Altayli, the installation of five KBA Commander 4/1 presses and customised Ferag mailroom technology was a bold move on the part of your media group, particularly at a time when other players in the field were putting all investment on hold. What were your motives?
Altayli: We were well aware that newspapers across the board are losing readers to the internet. Our aim was therefore to launch a new type of newspaper with a much stronger appeal for both readers and advertisers. And since the technology used to print most Turkish newspapers is fairly outdated, we decided to go for a press with the most advanced technology on the market. Newspapers have been around for over 300 years, and while younger people may not read them today, this will most likely change as they grow older. No new medium entirely displaces existing ones, and I believe this applies emphatically to printed newspapers. Haberturk represents a new, high-quality genre of daily, and one that has been a big hit with our readers. Published seven days a week, it already generates daily sales of more than 300,000 copies. And it's not just a first for Turkey - I know of nothing like it in the global market. We have made a spectacular start.
Malik: Mr Altayli, the activities of the Ciner Group encompass mining, energy, tourism, hotels, trade and industry. What role do the media play, more specifically the print media, in group strategy?
Altayli: In Turkey, a lot of newspapers abuse their power by inciting opposition to the government, to businesses or to specific demographic groups. All too often, this policy is tacitly condoned by the owners. Turgay Ciner, the proprietor of Haberturk, is radically opposed to this. He has been in the newspaper business a long time and his objective with Haberturk is to publish a totally new type of newspaper which pulls no punches in its news coverage but does not try to impose its views on its readers.
Malik: Haberturk appears seven days a week. How many staff are needed to produce it?
Altayli: On a normal weekday we print 80 broadsheet pages and require far fewer staff than our competitors. We employ 275 journalists in our editorial offices and 55 engineers in our IT department. In addition there are 225 employees at our four printing plants in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Adana.
Malik: Some of the Commander four-by-one press lines have been equipped with heatset dryers for the production of semi-commercials and hybrid copies. You are evidently leading an emerging trend in newspaper structure towards daily magazines. In your view, what are the benefits?
Altayli: We wanted to make our mark with a distinctive new type of newspaper. As a result the advertising industry has had to come up with new ad forms. While some advertising is migrating to magazines, their share of the Turkish market is relatively small. Readers want high-quality newspapers, and ads for luxury branded goods are most effective when printed on coated stock such as the ones we use. We live with electronic media, and have therefore enhanced the visual image of our newspaper accordingly. We lay out news items so that they closely resemble an internet page. So readers accustomed to accessing news and information on the internet immediately feel at ease with the printed copy.
Malik: In choosing the KBA Commander you opted for a performance class which is rarely seen in Turkey - and for four locations at a stroke. You now boast the fastest newspaper presses in the country. Why did you go for high-tech press lines instead of cheaper, more modest models?
Altayli: Viewed from a holistic, long-term perspective, the relative cost of such presses over their total service life has in fact proved to be much lower. And kitting up with the most advanced press and mailroom technology on the market is far more cost-effective than the labour-intensive press lines run by some of our competitors.
Malik: You completed the entire project - from signing the contract to commissioning the new presses, erecting new buildings and installing the relevant infrastructure at four separate locations - in little over a year. That is something that very few could match. Did everything go according to plan?
Altayli: Yes, we had an extremely tight time-frame of just thirteen months from placing the order. We started off, of course, by approaching all potential equipment suppliers. What made us choose Koenig & Bauer and Ferag, apart from their superior specifications, was the concept they submitted for implementing the project, and the support they provided. As a result we made a conscious decision to opt for the technological leaders in the global newspaper industry. Some other providers merely responded with "That's not possible." In September 2007 we started planning the project and by November 2008 had completed the initial commissioning stage. On 1 March 2009 we launched into daily newspaper production. But to be honest it was a major challenge. Construction work was still going on at the production plants, the infrastructure was not yet in place and the installation of the presses and mailroom equipment had not yet been completed. The fitters assigned by KBA and Ferag were magnificent, often putting in an incredible amount of time and effort.
Malik: The presses have now been in operation for several months. What has been the initial response from readers, advertisers and competitors?
Altayli: The response from readers and advertisers to this new type of newspaper has been extremely positive. Full colour throughout and improved stock have proven so popular that many readers are no longer interested in their regular daily. This has given us a major time gain over our rivals, enabling us to win new readers and advertising accounts by offering them enhanced quality and immediacy.
Malik:To what extent do you utilise the heatset dryers for semi-commercials and finished hybrid products?
Altayli: We utilise them a lot. Heatset dryers allow us to run a much better grade of paper and thus print a better quality product. As a result we have increased single-copy street sales by 50 per cent. What is more, we can charge twice the market price for advertising. The Ferag mailroom offers us additional marketing opportunities for newspaper supplements and special types of ads. The cost efficiency of these two lines, and higher revenues, deliver calculable benefits. The additional input entailed, say, in heatset drying, is more than outweighed by high earnings from single-copy sales, advertising and income from supplements.
Malik: How has the financial and economic downturn impacted on the media and newspaper industry, and your own plans following this major investment?
Altayli: Naturally we felt the impact, primarily in a diminishing volume of advertising. But with Haberturk, higher ad revenues from the luxury goods sector and the technological edge we have gained offer a wider choice of options for stemming the flow.
Malik: From your perspective, alongside online offerings and TV what role will print play in Turkey and in the Ciner Group's strategy?
Altayli: Prior to the recession, circulations were increasing in Turkey. The gravitas and credibility of printed content is the deciding factor: the internet is not considered to be as trustworthy. And newspaper websites attract the highest number of hits because the volume of information and the quality of the content provided address a real need. Newspapers must adapt to new habits of media consumption.
Malik: Mr Altayli, many thanks for this interview.
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