Indirect Hit

By Fattah, Hassan | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, August 1, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Indirect Hit

Fattah, Hassan, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management


During the past year, Yousuf Haddad has given his fair share of interviews about Arab-Americans and their American experience. But these days Haddad, the president of the Arab-American Press Guild and a freelance journalist, has found himself with a lot more questions than answers. Chief among them: where have all the advertisers gone, and why has it become so hard to distribute his Guild's magazines?

"As [Arab-American] publishers, we've suffered twice," Haddad says. "We've suffered as Americans, losing business with the economy, but also as Arabs, facing suspicion."

Almost a year after the September 11 terrorist attacks, publishers of Arab-American and Muslim magazines continue a struggle to survive, caught in a precarious mix of plunging advertising revenue, community retrenchment and political maneuvering that has brought their revenues down by as much as 40 percent.

These titles, like most ethnic magazines, were dealt a serious blow with the loss of telecom and airline advertising this year, traditionally the key corporate advertisers in the ethnic markets. In total, the two ad categories amount to 15 to 25 percent of many ethnic magazine's ad revenues, says Achal Mehra, editor and publisher of Philadelphia-based Little India. But the biggest loss, Mehra says, was the departure of other mainstream corporate clients, like automobiles, banks and insurance companies, which had just started advertising in the ethnic markets over the past two years.

"The real story is that we lost an opportunity. Corporate America started taking notice of our market, but it got distracted [by the economy]," Mehra says.

Most ethnic publications have been able to stem the fall by turning to their traditional community advertisers for support. But for many Arab and Muslim publications, even that tack has proven difficult.

"In our community, people have been pulling out, and it's clearly not because their business is hurting," says Joseph Haiek, editor and publisher of The News Circle, a 5,000-circulation Arab-American monthly that has covered political, social and cultural aspects of Arab-Americans since 1972. Many businesses and advertisers shied away, fearful of an Arab backlash. A few have returned, Haiek says, but a large number have not. Plus, many Islamic charities, another support block for these magazines, have been closed or frozen by law enforcement agencies. As a result, Islamic Horizons lost three full pages of advertising in its 12x schedule, says editor and publisher Omar Abdullah.

Making matters worse, the distribution channel for these magazines is crumbling. Most are distributed free in restaurants and shops. But in recent months, Haddad says shop owners have asked publishers to stay away or have taken to hiding the piles of magazines in obscure parts of their stores. Naturally, advertising prospects balk at spending money in magazines that are no longer available to their target audiences.

"For a while we couldn't even distribute our papers at all," Haddad notes.

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