This transition came about at the same time that Mariam Mohanna, As-Safir’s Digital Development Manager, was independently working her way through WAN-IFRA’s Media Management Accelerator (MMA) digital revenue certification, which covers the six pillars of digital revenue with more than 10 hours of video-led instruction from industry experts and case studies from some of Europe’s top publishers.
The timing meant that Mohanna was positioned to immediately begin putting her new learnings into practice.
In this interview, WAN-IFRA’s Nicole Frankenhauser asks Mohanna about her experience and how it helped bring about the transformation with As-Safir Al-Arabi.
During your MMA journey, you were quite busy! You were dealing with the closure of As-Safir and focusing on the launch of its As-Safir Al-Arabi as a digital product. How did the MMA learnings help you during this transition?
Mariam Mohanna: Indeed, the MMA came at quite a challenging time; the main newspaper closed and one of its weekly supplements, As-Safir Al-Arabi, decided to take a shot at continuing independently in digital-only format.
As-Safir Al-Arabi was thus established as an independent media organisation that provides the Arab reader with accessible, non-academic, and user-friendly socio-political analysis and research about the Arab region.
We aim to engage readers with writers all over the Arab world, with special focus on women, youth, minorities, and marginalised segments of the society.
The insights from the MMA were perfectly timed as it forced me to evaluate the strategy, the audience definition, and the business model. Given the sudden closure of the print newspaper and the immediate decision to continue by As-Safir Al-Arabi, we did not have the luxury to think of those elements before launch.
Here we had a 5-year-old publication which had until then full funding, and which suddenly found itself trying to justify and defend its existence. We were drafting the business plan and writing project proposals while ensuring continuous content production.
So the MMA, with its structured approach covering the business model and the revenue generation helped me, along with the team, to define our value proposition, our business model, and our products.
It is worth noting that the environmental publication is a new product that we ended up conceiving as a result of the MMA. It started as an assignment but ended up as an exciting full product which we wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
What kind of business model does As-Safir Al-Arabi have?
As-Safir Al-Arabi relies on three main revenue sources:
- Grants from international donors
- Commissioned content from organisations and research centers for research topics in the fields of coverage of As-Safir Al-Arabi. Although those organisations could select the broad topic (assuming it aligns with the identity and expertise of As-Safir Al-Arabi), they do not influence the content
- Consulting and training services
We will also launch a crowdfunding campaign in 2019.
In your MMA submission, you considered your new niche publication being funded by sponsorships as a possible revenue stream. Has there been interest in the market from advertisers or potential partners?
Let me start by clearly distinguishing our idea of sponsorships from the traditional model in the mass media.
As a niche publication, we do not accept commercial sponsorships that promote the brand of the sponsor.
We write editorial content, but allow sponsorship in the format of “brought to you by …,” which clearly specifies that the sponsor has no editorial interference.
We have seen interest in this format from a lot of organisations with whom we share the goals of promoting transparency and advocating for change.
However, this applies for the publication as a whole, not for the new environmental publication, which has had a soft launch so far and thus we have not yet sought sponsors for it.
Have you already seen a positive response from your readers with the publication? i.e. Have you seen more engagement from the community?
We had a soft launch of the publication through a newsletter to a selected mailing list.
The feedback has been quite positive, and the recipients found that it was practical and engaging.
In turn, many have started contributing to the content with suggestions of tips, or leads to companies that cater for eco-friendly services.
How do you discover new readers? You mentioned launching a newsletter with the publication – is this currently available and how is it performing?
As mentioned in the previous question, we have launched the newsletter only to a selected reader group, so it is witnessing higher engagement than average. But our audience discovery strategy has so far been focused around Google Analytics and social media: we target audience segments similar to our existing audience and try to convert them.
We rely a lot on data and analytics and surveys, and we go deep into understanding the readers of our various topics, so that we can expand the reach.
Our budget prevents us from purchasing expensive tools, but so far this has been an efficient method.
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