Future of print media business in Africa

Posted on July 17, 2015 12:01 am

At a once powerful publishing company in South Africa, the future of print and journalism does appear terminal.The company(name withheld) is pushing towards an uncertain and possibly unviable financial future and its content will exist mainly online and in the digital space and not in hard copies anymore thanks to free fall of sales.However, that is no reflection on the future of print business or the profitability or other thriving publishing companies across Africa.A media expert who regularly reads my blog,recently emailed me informing that that flailing ratings are not signs of death knell for free-to-air television and therefore he doesn’t believe that print is not in its dying days.In his home city of Seattle, Washington state, there has been endless reports he believes are exaggerated and grossly inaccurate.Am awfully wrong according to the 66 years old bloke.Contador Harrison respects his opinion because mainstream newspapers in the western world are shedding journalists and photographers as they reduces their newsroom to what is likely to be a core digital team but still enjoys more sales with a larger audience than at any time in their history.

Printed newspapers, far from being on their deathbed, are vital to some of the largest media companies in the world and even in developing regions like Africa.Being engaging and innovative in the digital space, while still selling millions of newspapers, is critical to the success of Africa’s largest media companies like Nasper,IPP Media,Nation Media Group,Standard Media Group and their reflection as some of the most successful publishers Africa has.Naspers, which celebrated 100 years in May this year has proved itself as a visionary in a media industry largely populated by lesser executives who show more reservation than courage, more anxiety than insight and more uncertainty than solutions. According to research in my possession, In Africa, there is no website that has a duration of longer than 5 minutes.Engagement levels with online adverts are momentary, with levels far stronger in print and on newspaper apps. Significantly, the largest and most profitable media company in Africa, Nasper has demonstrated that Africans are willing, no, happily disposed, to pay for content, through subscribing online to its digital products.At the five major newspapers in Africa, readers spend on average 35 minutes with the newspaper, 9 minutes on the app and just five or 4 minutes on the website, a proof that the newspaper is important to readers across the continent.

Yet experts some very amateurish continue to claim newspapers are dead. This is far from accurate.The same ill-informed arguments was being made of radio when television started becoming commonplace in African households. Sure, most of the continent’s gutter press newspapers and magazines no longer exist.We all know that television didn’t kill radio as was predicted and it certainly didn’t kill print.Smart publishers in Africa need to learn how to co-exist, even complement, new mediums.The truth is that not only are African newspapers alive and kicking, but the media organizations that will suffer in the digital age are those that reverse-publish,taking their news cues from the twitterati and internet ephemera.Those media companies that fail to invest in the quality of its newsrooms and newspapers will become one small player in a large online pond occupied by others,such as the Daily Nation of Kenya and The Times of South Africa, with far greater audiences.Confused and self-destructive strategy can be seen in its use of columnists appearing on the online editions of respected newspapers that are meant to boost its online audience, a dumbed-down audience that has little appeal for advertisers seeking AB readers and that will never be able to match the scale of a free site.It’s a hopeless halfway house.Nation and Standard Media Groups in Kenya are heading in a different direction, armed with facts that show newspapers command robust circulation and a healthy financial future.

Contador Harrison