Transitioning Africa’s largest print newspaper group into a global digital first media group.

Independent Media Group goes Digital

It was 2014 and the Independent Media Group had recently been acquired by a consortium of private and government investment businesses from the original Irish Independent owners. Back then it was previously known as Independent Newspapers, which had over 32 printed newspaper titles (national, regional and community) and only one news website (

The Afrozaar digital product team approached the new owners and proposed a digital journey and digital platform implementation plan to transform the traditional newspaper group into a globally positioned digital-first media business.

After partnering with The Telegraph Media Group (2011 to 2014) Afrozaar had the experience needed to assist with establishing a high-frequency digital publishing ecosystem.


To define a change-controlled roadmap and journey to systematically transform the group’s print content to be digitally compliant for wider distribution across a suite of newly deployed digital web and app properties. Following the initial objective, the team ensured print produced content was digitally available and archives thereof manageable for reuse and reference, we were tasked with transitioning the group’s people, process and platforms further towards a digital-first focused mindset.

By utilising the Publisher’s Toolbox suite of products we believed that immediate value would be realised from a digital asset, publishing, presentation perspective, and over time the commercialisation and enrichment of print content into a digital world would be possible with little change.

Implementation Approach:

We assessed and applied a systematic approach starting at the physical infrastructure deployment layer where we embarked on migrating all media systems to the cloud.

To understand the challenge and opportunity a summary of the digital landscape include: 

    • numerous nationally distributed editorial teams
    • no digital publishing process
    • no digital products
    • no digital subscriptions
    • no digital title specific apps or websites
    • no centralised digital asset archive or storage facility
    • no user roles or workflow from security perspective
    • no centralised analytics
    • no digital customer database

Cloud Architecture

The digital journey begun by establishing a cloud based infrastructure within Amazon Cloud: AWS. Our first challenge was to migrate the propriety Atex Prestige Print Editorial platform from local servers to a scalable AWS environment; such a migration had never been performed. This did not stop us, and so Acacia Cloud Solutions, a former subsidiary within the Afrozaar group, was responsible for all cloud setup, configuration and optimisation. It was a success and an achievement never done before.

“We needed a reliable and scalable hosting environment to deploy media platforms, leverage digital services, archive digital assets and facilitate efficient digital publishing cycles.”, Rich Cheary (CEO of Afrozaar)

Content Redistribution and Digital First CMS

It was important that the traditional publications had an equal opportunity to establish their brands digitally. Initially the impact on people and process was minimal, and resulted in maximum satisfaction when we were able to repackage print content within Baobab Suite and auto publish to a branded app and web platform. By utilising Baobab Suite’s import and export of content APIs syndication and aggregation of content within and from external sources is tightly regulated and managed for further redistribution.

“Such an undertaking of migrating and supporting a media group’s platforms had to be handled with care and zero tolerance for failure. We were dealing with traditional newspaper brands, that are over a century old and never before missed a print run, so we weren’t going to miss one now because of new digital rollout.”, Rich Cheary

Mobile App Strategy

We wanted to mobilise the print-run content whilst respecting each title’s brand, so we defined a mobile app offering (Android and Apple) that had a digital newsstand facility allowing each print brand to be represented, ensuring their respective print editions were digitally available for download as well as past editions. It was NB for us to steer away from outdated PDF based experience and transition the print content into unique content elements with complementing multimedia files, however we couldn’t veer away from complementing the edition with a PDF download facility for ABC purposes.

The team used an enterprise version of their Mobile App Suite framework which had the ability to scale rapidly with regards to single-title, multi-titled, continuous and edition based publishing cycles, and included metering module and subscription entitlement layer for digital newspapers.

Multi-titled App Solution

IOL News Mobile app is available on Google Play Store and Apple’s iTunes Store where one can subscribe to any of the groups daily or weekly newspapers.

Single-titled Mobile App Solutions

An example can be found in The Star newspaper single title mobile app is available on Google Play Store and Apple’s iTunes Store where one can subscribe to any of the groups daily or weekly newspapers.

By choosing to use the Mobile App Suite, we provided the Independent group with a massive advantage and differentiator in the market, as new mobile title apps could be deployed within a week, thus rapidly expanding the group’s mobile distribution and reach”, Rich Cheary

Website Strategy

We fulfilled a role of content API provider to a 3rd party web development team who designed and built a custom web framework / platform (Baobab WebSuite) for the group utilising the content API. IOL website utilizes Json services. As team, we decided that the group’s newspaper titles couldn’t hold out until the fully fledged group wide web framework was ready, so offered a more nimble and flexible solution. By implementing the WebSuite framework which allowed for a collection of WordPress sites to be made secure and standardised to meet a large Enterprise Media Group standard. Some examples of these sites are: 

Monetisation of content

Google DFP Implementation

The next objective and approach taken was to provide mechanisms upon which the new digitally-minded group could monetise their content and brand effort in a digital environment. We implemented Google DFP and managed all AdOps tagging across all websites and mobile apps from within the Baobab Suite centralised configuration engine. The team was able to implement fractional, banner and interstitial DFP adverts across mobile app navigations, display adverts on web and pre-roll video adverts within the customised branded media streaming players.

Augmented Reality

With our mindset being digital and app oriented, we needed to be sure we didn’t cannibalize the print advertising side of such a large group.  We decided to implement an in-app AR module that would enhance and enrich the print version of newspapers, especially any print adverts. By combining an augmented reality scan module in the apps, we plan to complement the print editions and provide the audience with a way to unlock additional value and benefit, most importantly give print adverts a digitally enriched capability. Our implementation of AR, Augmenta, is now at the heart of the group’s print advertising commercial upsell strategy.

Mobile Journalism

Ironically this was one of the final solutions we implemented. Not only did this give the group the capability to secure break stories from the field, but it allowed for the centralisation and storage of such media to be made available within the editorial workflow and asset archive immediately. MojoReporter is now not only rolled out across all editorial teams, but also made available as a plugin to the Mobile Apps whereby citizen reporters can now also contribute into the breaking news editorial workflow.

Key Digital Platforms

By implementing the following digital platforms and products across the group, the team have been able to achieve the objectives set out:

  • Digital First CMS complete with permission based editorial workflow
  • Subscription based content metering
  • Evolving content APIs for serving various websites and mobile applications
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM) – centralising media assets across multiple print and digital brands
  • Mobile Newsstand App of all their titles
  • Mobile Apps for each digital brand in the group
  • Google DFP AdOps and tagging
  • Video streaming and player services
  • Content Syndication
  • Enterprisation of their WordPress ecosystem by installing Baobab plugins and hosting in AWS.
  • Social publishing Facebook, Twitter with tracking
  • Push notification facility to auto or manually communicate
  • Reporting – editorial performance metrics, digital subscribers
  • Advert Booking App
  • MojoReporter (Mobile Journalism app platform)

Outcomes and Learnings:

Improved Efficiency

  • Independent Newspapers has a large amount of content produced daily for print. There is a need to improve efficiency and lower operational overheads through centralised control of content across multiple apps and website brands and  a single view of subscribers.

Reduced Costs

  • Reduce costs in developing tailor-made, integrated web and app solutions from MBaaS architecture and a wide range of APIs and SDKs.

No Vendor Lock-in

  • We wanted to give Independent Newspapers freedom to choose multiple app development partners and reduce risk of vendor lock-in with flexible and secure content APIs.

Increased Revenue

  • Drive digital revenue growth through multiple channels including advertising via Google DoubleClick for Publishers, numerous subscription options and content metering.


  • When trying to drive a digital-first mindset into an organisation that focuses primarily on print, there is a strong need to experiment and modify functionality on an ongoing basis, in order to both inform and support the long-term evolution of the digital strategy.

Exceptional Performance

  • Providing business and consumer facing digital products in an emerging market means being reliable, fast and considerate to geographically distributed editorial teams. High performance cloud services tailored towards superior search and archive facilities for sharing content across the group provide a competitive edge.


  • JAVA, MySql, ElasticSearch, Polymer, JavaScript, Android, iOS, ReactNative


  • Being able to scale digitally rapidly to roll out
  • Getting IOL content team onto Baobab CMS editorial workflow
  • Unlocking tools like integrated social sharing, article preview, and publish schedules to increase online engagement
  • Working with AdOps teams to create effective digital advertising campaigns across websites and mobile apps


“Thank you Afrozaar. The quality of your delivery into Independent, a large media organisation, was done extremely well. We now have the digital foundation to scale our product & service offering across web & mobile.” – Anthony Robinson (CDO, Independent Newspapers)

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