Making business and ideals go hand in hand

Sowt is an independent podcasting platform that produces high-quality audio programmes in Arabic. In 2021, they launched a promising membership programme that has opened up new opportunities

When Sowt was founded in 2016, podcast as a medium had not yet had its breakthrough in the Arab region, but throughout the years, audiences and interest have broadened significantly. In 2021, Sowt increased downloads of their podcasts by over 35 percent and an average episode was downloaded more than 12,000 times. To further explore audio media’s business potential in the region and build closer relationships with their audience, in June the team launched Sowt Plus, a new membership programme.

The membership offers early access to ad-free stories and exclusive content, and the monthly price is less than a cup of coffee. By the end of the 2021, Sowt Plus’ subscribers had tripled from the previous year.

“It is quite an achievement for us,” says Basim Dawood, Sowt’s Business Development Manager. “We definitely see potential and an increased demand for podcasts. The growth we’re experiencing allows us to produce podcasts that are of even higher quality and relevance to our varied audiences that include Arabic speakers from many parts of the world.”

However, the commercial efforts are not without challenges. Basim Dawood describes the membership programme as a tool to ensure the sustained production of Sowt’s independent journalism and offer alternative stories to the coverage of mainstream media, which in many countries in the Arab region avoids topics that are considered taboo, controversial or critical of the local authorities.

 “We believe that we have an obligation to make important, reliable information available to the public and that audio is a powerful tool for creating positive change, something that is at the core of Sowt’s mission. But we also need a sustainable business model to do so, so it is a constant balancing act between being true to our vision while also becoming profitable and continuing to grow – and it’s not always easy to make the two sides go together, but we are learning all the time,” Basim Dawood explains.

The programme has underlined the Sowt team’s awareness of the importance of offering country-specific content and subscriptions that match the local situation. Says Basim Dawood: “We can’t ask for the same membership price in Egypt as in Saudi Arabia because the average citizen will not be able to pay the same amount, so we customise our prices as well as our content. We are not only targeting the rich countries in the region but also those that few media outlets see potential in. Based on our current results, we believe that we’ll see many more members from countries with unstable economies as well.”

This article was published in IMS’ Annual Report 2021