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Reinventing a brand leader: MEED

Putting print content online need not involve cannibalising print sales. That was the message from MEED editorial director Sean Brierley and Anthony Ray of Stingray Research, in a presentation at February’s Publishing Expo describing the relaunch of MEED magazine and website last November. Michael Upshall was there.

By Michael Upshall

The relaunch of MEED (formerly Middle East Economic Digest) is a story that will interest any professional magazine publisher looking to protect a subscription-based intellectual property while taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the web.

Although MEED is long-established (continuously published for over 50 years) and well-regarded, it has little visibility outside its target market, either in print (not often seen on newsstands) or on the web (since the MEED website was for paid subscribers only). And with a subscription price of $1,100 per year, it is not likely to attract many casual sales.

The changing circumstances of the online era have led to a dramatically different market to the one in which MEED flourished 20 or 30 years ago. So, how does a magazine like MEED become relevant in 2008?

What the research showed

The research done by Stingray revealed fascinating insights about the existing readership. Although widely known and respected across the business community in the Middle East, MEED’s profile was far better in just a few key sectors – construction, oil and gas, power, and water. It had little presence in newer and emerging sectors such as IT.

Moreover, as Sean Brierley described it, MEED suffered from the "Galapagos factor": it had succeeded for so long without meaningful competition for its core market, and so had developed its own, idiosyncratic ways of working. It was ill prepared for the threat brought by the advent of the internet.

MEED’s writing style was difficult for new readers to understand, with heavy use of jargon and references that required the reader to have insider knowledge to fully appreciate. MEED showed little regard to the benefits of good design, leaving the magazine looking out of date and difficult to navigate. And, in an era of live and daily news online, MEED’s heavy focus on weekly news, with up to 120 news stories in each issue, meant it risked becoming an irrelevance to its subscribers.

It was clear from the research that the original role of MEED, to provide core, country-based news in a region with few alternative news sources, has long been superseded. Today, a proliferation of rapidly updated websites, including Dow Jones and, provides more up-to-date information than the weekly MEED magazine ever could.

Relaunch strategy

MEED’s approach was to change its focus substantially. The changes included:

* Dividing MEED’s content between magazine and website, with online daily news, while the magazine focuses on analysis;
* Restructuring the editorial team from country-based to sector-based reporting;
* Increasing the volume of news online and reducing the number of news stories in the weekly magazine, by as much as a third;
* Providing valuable data online;
* Moving away from low-value political stories on the website to focus on high-value, exclusive business news;
* Making one-third of the content available free on the web;
* Creating multiple sector and country homepages, with content tailored on each to a particular market segment, to provide more ways of accessing and navigating the online content, including a map-based interface.

The new site has free and paid areas, and subscriptions are only offered for the combined print and online package – there are no longer separate print or online subscriptions.

Did it work? Analysis of the revenue from subscriptions shows that online and print subscriptions have risen significantly, by as much as 5% in the first six months, proving that giving away a third of content for free has not harmed revenues.

Such statistics should reassure cautious content owners about using the web! Moreover, unique users of the MEED website have increased by almost 400%, and that figure will increase as more services are offered on the website in coming months.

Content strategy

MEED’s content strategy included aims to provide more high-value content, including profiles of people and of companies in the region, a daily listing of Middle East tenders on the home page, country-based navigation tabs on the left-hand side of the page, as well as sector tags, establishing a key difference between page-based and web-based browsing.

Again, making imaginative use of the capabilities of a website, the online site is geared more to specific searching, for example a list of categories and countries on the left-hand navigation bar (construction, defence, and energy), while the print publication remains more for browsing. A total of 12 "horizontal" sector categories have been created on the site. In this way, the web-based and print-based versions complement each other. A further advantage of this approach is to point users towards areas of content that might not have been visible before, such as "contracts awarded" or "real estate".

The new home page emphasises aspects of the magazine that might not be immediately apparent to print readers, such as the large "Comment" section.

The website provides multiple ways of accessing the information – for example, an "Editor’s Choice" section focuses on commentary and other content from the magazine without their own online navigation channels. There is a detailed country profile for each of the countries in the region, a list of recent tenders, and a five-year archive for locating material from the print magazine.

A further benefit of the website as an "information cupboard" is a Databank, comprising key macro-economic indicators about countries in the region, including oil prices and market and contracts data. Such information is easier to retrieve on the website and, regularly updated, provides a further complement to the news and commentary of the print magazine.

The site is completed by free email daily and weekly newsletters for targeted sector audiences. The relaunch of this powerful B2B brand just as it celebrates its golden jubilee looks to have placed MEED on a solid footing for a further 50 successful years of publication.