x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Abraaj eyes majority stake in publisher

Private equity firm Abraaj Capital eyes majority stake in Dubai-based Motivate Publishing, which is behind regional editions of Hello! and Campaign magazines.

The private equity firm Abraaj Capital is in talks to buy a majority stake in Motivate Publishing, which produces Middle East editions of Hello! and Campaign magazines.

Contact between the two companies was initiated almost a year ago, with intense talks taking place in March and April, according to sources close to the negotiations.

A final decision on the potential acquisition is expected to be made after Ramadan.

Motivate is behind titles including Gulf Business, What's On and Emirates Woman, as well as regional editions of Golf Digest and Hello! magazines published under licence from Conde Nast and Hola!.

It also publishes Emirates Airline's in-flight magazine Open Skies, and has a book division that has published about 300 titles.

The company, which was founded in 1979, is a partnership between managing partner Ian Fairservice and Obaid Humaid Al Tayer, the UAE Minister of State for Financial Affairs, according to its website.

It is not fully clear whose shareholding in the company is up for sale. Senior executives at Abraaj and Motivate declined to comment when contacted by The National.

Abraaj is the Middle East's biggest private buyout firm, with stakes in companies such as Air Arabia, Spinneys Holdings and Global Education Management Systems.

The company said this week it had dropped plans to acquire a stake in the Egyptian private equity firm Citadel Capital.

A purchase of a majority stake in Motivate would be Abraaj's second acquisition in the UAE media sector.

In 2009, Abraaj bought a minority stake in the Dubai publisher Mediaquest, which publishes magazines including Trends, Communicate and Gulf Marketing Review, as well as the online news portal The Kippreport.

Mediaquest, which was founded in Paris in 1987, last year bought five magazines from rival publisher The Media Factory, which is also based in Dubai.

These included Autocar Middle East, F1 Racing Middle East and FourFourTwo Middle East, which are published in the region under licence from the UK's Haymarket Media Group.

Motivate also has strong ties to Haymarket, as it produces Campaign Middle East and Stuff magazines under licence from the UK publisher.

If Abraaj succeeded in its acquisition of Motivate, it would seek some economies of scale between the publishing house and Mediaquest, according to sources close to the negotiations.

Motivate is based in the Garhoud area of Dubai, although it is believed to be moving to new premises in the Media One Hotel tower at Dubai Media City. The hotel is adjacent to Mediaquest's Dubai office.

An acquisition of Motivate by Abraaj would mark a significant consolidation within the UAE publishing industry, which was heavily hit during the economic downturn.

One fifth of all print publications in the GCC region closed between January 2009 and July last year, according to the data supplier MediaSource.

However, the UAE magazine industry is recovering, with advertising spending in the sector having risen 26 per cent in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year, according to figures from the Pan Arab Research Center.

Motivate's main competitors include Al Nisr Group, which publishes Gulf News and magazines including InsideOut and 4Men; and ITP, which is behind titles such as Time Out Dubai, Arabian Business and Esquire Middle East.

bflanagan@thenational.ae