The Outpost: a magazine for a new Arab world

by Steve Watson in March 2014
Current affairs

The Outpost is an excellent magazine. Intelligent, honest and beautifully written, it presents a deeply personal and totally original view on life in the Arab world.

My video review goes into more detail about why I like it so much so I won’t repeat it here, but when I heard that they were seeking funding for the second year of the magazine, I wanted to go behind the scenes and find out more about why they do what they do, and where they want to go next.

I caught up with editor and founder Ibrahim Nehme over Skype, and began by asking him to talk about the main motivations behind The Outpost. If you like the sound of The Outpost, take a look at their Indiegogo page – I for one definitely want to see it continue.

The Outpost magazine

Let’s start at the beginning – what’s the mission of The Outpost?
In a nutshell it’s to use narratives to inspire a new wave of change in this part of the world. We had out doubts when we first started, but a year in we see that narratives can actually help in shifting perspectives and getting people to look at the world differently.

We’re a magazine of possibilities in a place that’s plagued by narratives of impossibility, so we’re using our narratives to help change that. It’s going slowly but surely – even here in Beirut, which is our home base, so many people don’t know about the magazine.

It’s interesting that your narratives are in English.
Yes, I keep on getting this question – how come we’re publishing in English and trying to ignite change in a place that reads and speaks in Arabic? But our main target audience is the Arab youth, who are used to consuming their media in English, and our second target is westerners, because we want them to get a different view of this part of the world.

But having said that, if we manage to keep the print edition going we do have plans for an Arabic version. It wouldn’t just be a translated edition of the English version, though, because we think our Arabic version should be much more accessible. So it might be a free newspaper or a pamphlet, or something that could be distributed very cheaply.

The Outpost magazine

Really? That’s great. I’ve been watching the magazine evolve over the last year and I think this latest issue has really hit its stride. Do you have a conscious sense of how it has developed over time, or are you too close to it for that?
Today if I look at our first issue I’m embarrassed by it!

Everyone feels like that about first issues!
We’ve developed from a narrative point of view and from a design point of view – we’re trying to push everything issue by issue. We’re becoming more picky, if that’s the right word, about who we work with, and we’re particularly keen to move the magazine away from looking like Monocle.

When we first started we worked with a Spanish design team, who I must say were kind of infatuated with Monocle, and the magazine ended up looking a bit too similar to it. So every issue expend a lot of energy moving it away from that. I’m sure you’ve noticed a difference from one issue to the next, and that’s a big reason for it.

The Outpost magazine

Let’s speak about the campaign, because that must be one of your top priorities. $53,000 is a big number – what do you need that for?
Well actually it’s not really a big number – we wanted to ask for more! We want to use the money to create narratives for upcoming issues, and to print four new editions. Some of the money will be used to hire a fundraising manager to help us get more funds to sustain the operation, because we definitely need more than $50,000 to print four issues, and we also have plans to overhaul our digital presence.

Every independent publisher comes up against the problem of sustainability – do you think that one day The Outpost could be sustainable so that you don’t have to keep coming back for these big funding drives?
When we first started our model was advertising-led. The plan was that we’d get advertising and this would fund the bulk of our offering. But then we realised that advertising wasn’t going anywhere – we were getting rejection after rejection, and eventually we didn’t even want to go there because it was so discouraging.

So we now have a plan called the World Maker – you can see details of it on our crowdfunding page, and it’s for the creators who face immense challenges in order to create something in this part of the world. It’s like a guide or a directory, so if somebody wants to be featured they pay for a spot in the booklet, but it’s relatively very cheap, so they get to showcase their work to the rest of the world, and we get to secure enough revenue to help us fund the operation. It’s just an idea at the moment, but we want to test it conceptually and financially, because if this works I think we can move towards sustainability.

Most publishers find that to be sustainable they actually need several sources of income all working together, so hopefully this could be another one for you.
In our case our overheads are really high, because we cover the entire region, and we’re really intent on creating pitch perfect narratives, which requires a lot of money and time. In many cases we don’t have that, but we need to keep on pushing.

**Don’t forget, Ibrahim will be making an appearance via video at Printout on Monday 24 March, alongside live talks by the publishing innovators behind Delayed Gratification and Postr. See the Printout event page for tickets and more information**





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