How recession shrinks newspapers’ geographical spread
In recent times, the newspaper business in the country has suffered a decline in readership and revenue generation as a result of the emergence of new media technologies and other factors. Apart from the evident change in the readership figure of the newspapers, the geographical spread has also shrunk in terms of coverage and circulation.
In Nigeria, virtually all national and local newspapers have found their way on-line. Websites such as, www.newstrend.com, www.newsrescue.com and www.nigerianewspaper.com highlight and sometimes publish contents from The Guardian, Vanguard, Daily Sun, This Day, The Punch, Daily Trust, Daily Independence among others.
These newspapers went on-line owing to the advancement in modern technology and the need for information storage as archival materials for reference purposes in future.
The 2010 report of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reveals that 43.9 million Nigerians now have access to the internet, surpassing even South Africa, the continent’s largest economy.
According to United States Facebook guru, Joe Trippl, there are two million Nigerians on Facebook, out of the 400 million worldwide. As if the emergence of the new media was not enough trouble for the mainstream media, the economic realities of the time in the country have further made it difficult for the print media to survive.
History reveals mostly absence of so-called national papers and strong presence of regional papers. The only national paper after the demise of the Zik media conglomerate was Daily Times, which was published in Lagos. What then obtained were strong regional and state papers, such as, Observer, Sketch, Chronicle, Tide, Standard, New Nigerian, Triumph, Herald and so on. These papers reported the state/regions to the nation and vice versa.
The first attempt at making dailies national began with Punch, Concord followed by The Guardian to give Daily Times competition. This eroded the basis of regional and state papers, which coupled with issues of corporate governance started failing until they got almost completely obliterated.
More national papers-Vanguard, Champion, Thisday and some others came on the scene. The few existing regional papers became solely a department of the Ministry of Information of state government. They never circulated beyond their states; the few ones that still existed.
However, with the recession, the big names that answered national papers are now less able to spread across the nation. They are becoming more or less Lagos and at best, Northwest cum Abuja papers. This is so because of the unfavourable economics of trying to remain national. The situation is made worse by the ravaging social media. In the circumstance, every media organization is cutting its coat according to its size. There is a vacuum as no paper wants to pretend to be national at extremely unbearable cost. Could this mean the return of regional papers?
Media experts, commentators and communication teachers equally believe that the economic situation in the country coupled with the emergence of the new media is making the print media shrink both in size and circulation.
They agree that adapting to environmental shocks, such as economic recession, is a capability business leaders have to develop in order to survive. The Publisher of Realnews Magazine, Maureen Chigbo, who worked with Newswatch, told The Guardian that she had to leave Newswatch when the boat was sinking, to face a new challenge of online ownership. “I have been doing online publishing for almost five years now. I can say that the platform is growing. In the past, people doubted whether it would make a headway, but today, the case is different, many are beginning to realize that online media has come to stay. Even the mainstream media is realizing it, as most print outfits are trying to have strong online presence too,” she said.
Not only are the print outfits seeing the need to go online, Chigbo said advertisers are also making reckoning with it, as well as institutions who, are making plans and putting online publishers into the equation.
On whether the online publishing was more profitable, she said everything is dependent on how the publisher runs the business. “Today, every editor that doesn’t have a job goes into online publishing but with time everything will calm down and the weed will be separated from the chaff.
“Online is making a headway and it is eating through; it deploys the use of social media to circulate wider and faster in real time, on twitter, Whatsapp, Facebook and so on. The news is broken as it is happening, whereas, the mainstream has to wait to report it the following day, and the reader may not want to read stories that happened a day before, which in my opinion is affecting newspaper circulation.
“Some print media houses even quote online sources their stories. By the time the print goes to press, more news is breaking, hence the online publishing requires working late to keep breaking stories as they happen,” she said.
She however advised the print media to create strong online presence to survive this economic recession and avoid going into extinction, adding, “they need to take advantage of the brand they have built over the years and be stronger online. It may appear that online publishing doesn’t require much money, but that is not true. To succeed in online publishing, the publisher needs to be credible to attract commercials and followership.”
According to the national president of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr. Waheed Odusile, recession offers an opportunity for the media to change its operational style to come out of the cycle.
“Some media organisations are already looking inward, making some changes, but they must do so without neglecting their primary objectives of disseminating news and information. If they can strategise, they will come out of it early.
“Of course, the regional pages would be the first to go when there are adverts, because in the long run, newspaper is a business that must yield profit,” he said
Odusile lamented the many newspapers on the newsstands claiming to be national papers, saying, “They are just glorified regional papers, they can remain in their region and maximise their scale and make their business grow. It is likely that the shrinkage in geographical spread of the newspapers is being induced by recession but if this will also encourage the return of regional newspapers, it is a welcome development.”
For the Executive Secretary of Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, Mr. Feyi Smith, because all the newspaper materials were imported, the cost of circulation was a major challenge for the newspaper business. “The drop in pagination is understandable, invariably, the advertisers who are also part of the economy are not advertising,” he noted.
On the drop in geographical spread, Smith said 95 per cent of the newspapers were produced in Lagos and about 60 per cent consumed therein. “If you spread, it’s to ensure visibility in those areas but basically, 70 per cent is sold in the south west. Many outfits would consider the cost of visibility in those areas to the gain, that is, how many copies they can sell and how much they can make as gain. It does not make sense if you have to sell 2000 copies in Kano or Maiduguri and it will cost you an arm and a leg or even your blood, it doesn’t make economic sense.
“In business, you don’t make emotional decisions but economic ones. The organization has to survive first, as it cannot operate the same way in recession period. It is possible that when the organization survives, many of the people who had to be laid off would be recalled to the establishment. It is unfortunate but I assure you that no employer wants his employee to lose his job, when they find themselves in such situations; the primary thing is to save the organization. They would look at the structure and reengineer the structure, which may include closing down stations too,” he said.
Professor of media communication at the Pan Atlantic University, Lagos, Biakolo Emervo stated that there was a lot of pressure on the media industry, and those that are still publishing, had to reduce pagination. “Unfortunately, we have a government that does not have a clear and comprehensive view of the consequences of policies and so on. The recession is one thing and foreign exchange rate is another. We have a government that has demonstrated incompetence not only in political management but also in economic. The news print materials are not sourced locally, and when you talk of geographical spread, of course the newspaper owners would consider such regional areas insignificant, because the name of the game is survival. When the economy was better, they concentrated on rural communities as well but today, it is logical that they change business strategy to survive,” he added.
President of Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mrs. Funke Egbumod, reiterated that the media industry was a business which, will continue to find ways to survive. “If spreading to more communities would cost more than the gain, the newspaper would find other ways of reporting such communities, like online. It depends on where the bulk of the income is coming from. For instance, if the newspaper house is getting more adverts from Zamfara State, then it needs to cover more of Zamfara and ensure full circulation in the state,” she said.
On the return of regional newspapers, she said, “if there are successful regional papers, then more will come on board, but there are reasons why these papers are never successful. Everything is inter-woven, commercial is about money, purchasing power has decreased. A lot of papers have reduced pagination so instead of increasing cover price, it’s better to cut cost.”
The Editor-in-Chief of Vanguard newspaper, Gbenga Adefaye, stated, “We would continue to react to cost implication of news print. Newspaper business is not different from any other business; the most important thing is survival. Recession is key in these changes, what is the point of carrying a cross that you cannot bear? There are no sentiments in business; it’s all about placement and taking the right business decisions.”
Dr Isah Momoh, lecturer at Pan Atlantic University, advised that newspaper managements need to be more creative. “Apart from the recession, the advent of the Internet has made matters worse, as newspaper readership has dropped, causing drastic fall in demand. As technology is improving and access to news has spread to other mediums, communication has become more visual, as many prefer to read online. And as copy sales reduce, some advertising clients have also migrated to placing adverts online.
“In Nigeria, rather than cut copies or reduce pagination, management should look for more efficient ways of producing newspapers, for example, distribution is a major cost economy in the business, they can find better ways of doing that. Online, newspapers use the electronic technique of hyperlink to increase content without taking more space. Another option is to increase advert rates but that is tedious and difficult considering the current economic status.”
Momoh said newspaper houses need to concentrate more on marketing and management reset rather than reduce pagination or geographical reach of the paper.