2018 News Digital Media Viability Lab

Should media companies today act like startups?

Why Arab media is in trouble and what to do about it

One cannot deny that digital content has become ubiquitous in our lives, and this may soon apply to Arabic digital content too.

Despite some shortcomings, Arabic content has been steadily on the rise for the past few years, and with it have come many opportunities for contributors to explore Arabic language in both social media and online platforms.

In this context, Maharat Foundation hosted digital content expert Veronique Abu Ghazaleh for a panel of discussion about the challenges and opportunities of Arabic media platforms.

Veronique is the editor-in-chief of Ounousa.com and Sohati.com, and she is content editor at Loolia.com as well as a media trainer.

Note: The event was part of a four-day workshop Maharat and DW Akademie were giving about Media Management at the end of February.

The core concept of the session was the transition of media companies and platforms from traditional mode to startup mode.

“Media institutes must now think and act like startups, if they want to sustain themselves,” Veronique said. “Business models must be taken into consideration.”

One common thing between the two is the importance of readers; they mean money for print agencies and conversion rates for digital platforms, she added.

Now how is a media startup different than a traditional media company?

For one thing, a startup is much smaller than a regular company. It only has a handful of employees, and these employees are willing to do everything that a simple writer or publisher isn’t.

“Employees are very valuable in startups, and this is because of their willingness to multitask and wear several hats. The old way of doing things doesn’t work anymore,” said Veronique.

In exchange for this, startup employees are entitled to have equity (a share of the company they work for).

Another difference between startups and institutions is that the former have no rules. There are no rules and guidelines in startups; it’s a flat structure with no hierarchy, and its operational side functions on the trial-and-error approach.

And even though they’re strapped for money, startups get to enjoy the following advantages (if they know how to take advantage of them).

  1. Attract the right investors
  2. Make use of incubators and accelerators
  3. Get free legal consultation
  4. Get access to coworking spaces
  5. Sell shares for large amounts of money

Some challenges in the Arab media industry

There are common challenges in the media industry, such as handling and retaining big clients; you have to go the extra mile with your services just to keep your clients happy.

Having faulty business models is another challenge, since most business models rely solely on native ads, which is not enough.

On the other hand, media startups have their fair share of problems. They are often accused of burning investors’ money way too fast (as most startups are), or of having too niche a market.

So what can we do about that?

Veronique ended the session on a few positive notes that might help answer a few of our questions:

  1. Work really hard on your relationships and on building trust with your clients
  2. Be patient. Let your audience grow to a decent number before making your next move (such as branching to e-commerce)
  3. Diversify your sources of income. Ads aren’t enough.
  4. Connect with mentors and exchange ideas. It will solve the trial-and-error dilemma.
  5. Build partnerships with companies that complement your product (or service in this case). It will make you stronger.
  6. Avoid traditional media like the plague.