Business models and sustainability (March 2021)

This is a summary of a discussion between business models and media sustainability in Lebanon that took place 16 March 2021.

As part of the March 2021 meeting of the Joint Coordination Mechanism for media assistance in Lebanon, 10 representatives from Lebanese media discussed the results of the snapshot research on Media Sustainability in Lebanon conducted by GFMD.

They also discussed the strategies and business models they use to survive and achieve a level of sustainability.

Participants represented a variety of media types:

  • Traditional media as well as new and recently established organisations

  • Television, print, and online media

  • Community, small and larger regional outlets

  • Arabic media and those that publish in French, and English

  • Those that target audiences in Lebanon and those that cater to the Lebanese diaspora

All speakers emphasised the difficulties of having to operate in an almost unbearably stressful economical, social and political environment.

Participants presented several models and reflected on important issues, echoing some of the main findings from the snapshot report and provided additional information and ideas.

Strategies and business models to achieve sustainability

Subscription-based models

Several participants spoke about their experience in shifting to using paywalls and subscription-based business models as alternatives to advertising and print models that were collapsing in Lebanon and the wider region.

This business model liberated some media outlets from depending on any political and external (often Saudi) funding.

“Last year for the first time, our online subscriptions accounted for more than 50 percent of our revenue, coming from four or five percent in 2015.”

“We believe that the future of media in Lebanon cannot continue based on advertising. This is long gone.”

Commercial activities

Funding journalism through commercial activities was also mentioned by several participants.

These activities included:

Selling services such as media consultancy services, editorial services for NGO and civil society groups.

Producing high-quality content, high-end journalism and investigative journalism, which can be sold to third parties (NGOs, and the private sector).

This constituted 30% of the total income for one of the media organisations.

Membership programmes

Membership programmes were also mentioned as an option being pursued by some more niche media outlets.

Related resources: Membership Puzzle Project’s guide for membership models in media:

Other advice included scaling operations and growing business to become a regional media outlet, become a competitive employer, retain talent and be less dependent on a political and economic situation in one country.

Defining target audiences and engagement strategies

Speakers emphasised the importance of

Building a community that could at some point in the future pay for the content.

Focusing on developing products that could enable monetisation.

Newsletters were mentioned as a relatively inexpensive product that when used in the right way can build reader loyalty and be a vehicle to convert readers to subscribers.

Many Lebanese media attending the meeting said they target the Lebanese diaspora and produce, or plan to produce, content in French and English languages.

One media representative reported that half of their subscriptions are from the diaspora.

“This is what Lebanese media should try to do, which is produce locally and export”.

Words of caution

Speakers warned that:

While diversification is a good approach, it can create a risk of diverting focus from the core activities of the organisation.

Business models and approaches towards achieving sustainability can have ramifications for other aspects of the organisation.

The example was given of how paywalls can go against a media’s identity as an organisation that offers free news and their belief that news should be accessible to everyone.

Suggestions for donors

Participants suggested that donors could consider providing resources for media outlets to test and innovate by introducing commercial activities to support media operations.

Core funding

The snapshot research findings pertaining to core funding resonated strongly with many participants as more opportunities for core funding would:

Allow organisations, especially those with small teams to focus on strategic planning and sustainability efforts.

Go some way to address the challenge of hiring and retaining good journalists and staff in Lebanon and discourage journalists from leaving to find better working conditions

Enable organisations to become good employers, pay staff regularly, and keep journalists focused on content production.

It can also provide an opportunity to test various revenue streams and models.

Challenges (and solutions)

Burn out and brain drain

Expecting individuals who are working in small independent media organisations to endure the pressure and burden of multiple roles they play within the organisation is not sustainable.

Several participants mentioned that one of the biggest challenges has been hiring and training good journalists, in addition to retaining talents especially when many people plan to leave the country in search of better working conditions.

Administrative challenges

THE PROBLEM: Complex and lengthy reporting requirements often for multiple donors.

A SOLUTION? It was suggested that donors should be encouraged to adopt a unified reporting template and set up a basket of funding to ease the administrative burdens placed on media and media support groups.

Operational challenges

Online payments are either not available (like PayPal) or can be extremely complicated and time-consuming.

THE PROBLEM: Lack of knowledge and understanding of which legal status and form of registration (non for profit, profit or other legal entity) would be most appropriate for the media and their business models.

One participant advised against registering as a non-profit organisation as it brings administrative complications in dealing with banks. They also reported that choosing a for-profit model worked well for them as it focused their minds on generating income.

A SOLUTION? Support for legal advice regarding which form of legal entity would best correspond with the goals, needs and business models of specific media organisations.


Media Startups in Lebanon by Maharat Foundation includes advice on the legal environment for media start-ups:

For more resources relevant to media development and media assistance in Lebanon see:

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