What Next for the MENA Region’s Print Publications?
While times are tough, some MENA-based magazines believe they still have an important role to play in the Arab media landscape
In March 2021, Mojeh, a Dubai-based luxury magazine, celebrated its 10th anniversary. This at a time when many international legacy publications have reduced their issues, while others have gone digital and still more are having to work with skeleton crews. “Ten years ago, when I came to Dubai to work and live here, I saw a gap in the market, a need for a luxury niche magazine. I am Iranian, I have my roots in the region, but I also traveled and studied abroad, and I really wanted a high-quality, international standard of localized content,” says the magazine’s founder and editor-in-chief Mojeh Izadpanah. “Combining that with my business background, I saw I could turn it into a profitable business.” Starting with six issues per year, Mojeh is now a monthly publication and has worked on further brand extensions such as Mojeh Men.
While Mojeh has a mainstream take on luxury fashion, Plastik, an art-based magazine known for its cutting-edge style, printed its last issue in November 2019, but this is just a pause for the magazine. With Plastik’s distributors being in London, the pandemic has meant the magazine has had to take a break. Launching a decade before, it won awards for its creative design. Its Beirut-based founder Eli Rezkallah started his career as a fashion show producer before launching one of the region’s most respected creative studios: Plastik. “In Lebanon, the advertising industry was about playing it safe at the time, and I could not produce the kind of work I wanted (this was just before Instagram). So, in 2009, I decided to launch Plastik magazine as a platform for my work and that of other young, emerging artists in the region and beyond,” says Rezkallah.
A collectors’ issue is coming out later this year, and Plastik’s loyal social media followers are still very much engaging with the magazine. “Like everyone else, regional artists, designers and creatives are influenced by the globalization of culture they’re experiencing on social media,” says Rezkallah. They’re now exposed like never before and feel encouraged to express their understanding of their world and culture. And this can mean incredible things for the media landscape in the region. I want Plastik to play a role in offering these artists a platform to showcase their work to the world. We should have publications that spotlight this work.”
One of the reasons for print losing its relevance is the advent of social media. As Sorbet Magazine’s founder Ali Khadra explains: “It is a sad fact that so many good magazines are shutting down for multiple reasons, such as the dominance of digital media, shorter attention span and environmental factors.” His quarterly magazine is more like a coffee table book than a glossy, and every issue is themed. “This also makes it more of a collectible than ephemeral monthly or weekly tabloids. It doesn’t only take a lot of research, effort and budget to produce Sorbet, it is also very rich in content that needs time to be enjoyed by its reader,” he explains. Sorbet is currently in the process of relaunching its digital platform – no print publication can survive without digital.
Mojeh has been very digital strong for a few years and during lockdown shared its digital version of the magazine for free. Mojeh has always taken a very precise view of its distribution, says Izadpanah. “We have a strong private system of distribution to our community,” and are even available in a very important place in Europe in certain months when the Arab community travels for ski holiday or for their summer sojourn.”
Being small and niche means local brands can pivot with ease, and being flexible is key to survival. “We have to be very flexible to be able to respond to the change or build something on top of what we have,” says Izapadanah. “Perhaps the fact that these publications have such a precise focus also means they are able to stay in touch with their audience, which tends to have discerning taste, so look for more specialized publications.
Just as the recent tough times have proved that couture will always have a role to play in fashion, so will print publications is media – it may just have to be for an even more limited and refined audience than before, and the numbers will come from their social media platforms. Since the MENA region is known for liking the finer things in life, it does seem that niche luxury lifestyle publications will still have an audience. As Khadra says: “With a publication like Sorbet, I believe digital will enhance