This post on Newspaper Circulation was first published in 2010, and we decided to bring it back because, its still as useful today as it was 8 years ago
When a study conducted revealed that the combined daily circulation of all Nigeria newspapers was less than 300000, the publishers disagreed and protested the figure vehemently. That is understandable if one considers that circulation figure is a major factor an advertiser considers in media planning.
But be that as it may, denying a thing does not make it false. The truth is that all the newspapers in Nigeria today have a combined circulation figure that is far less than that of Daily Times of Nigeria in 1980 (when the population of Nigeria was about half of what it is today).
The question then should be, why? This is very important as a wrong diagnosis will invariably lead to an inappropriate treatment. All the commentators I have heard on the matter seem to agree that two factors are responsible for the dwindling circulation figures of newspapers — the sad state of our economy and the ever decreasing quality of our education. I beg to disagree.
While the first might be true to some extent, the second is completely off the mark. The last ten years have witnessed a reemergence of the middle class in Nigeria. These are mostly educated folks in the banking, telecoms, and entertainment etc sectors. And truth be told, the population of secondary and tertiary schools graduates has more than tripled in the last thirty years.
So what do I think is responsible? I believe it’s social. And it is global in scope. Such powerhouse newspapers as The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune are also facing the same challenge of plummeting circulation figures. The difference is just that they are confronting the issue holistically rather than deceive themselves that all is well.
What brought this social state? Mainly, the Internet. Yes, the Internet. Most of the newly empowered middle class have access to the Internet and seriously, why should I buy a newspaper for information when the same is available on my mobile phone free of charge? Moreover, the Internet gives me access to different sources for the same information — all for free.
When I finished NYSC in 2005, my main source of information on job vacancies was Tuesday Guardian newspaper. And it wasn’t only me. All my freshly minted B.sc. friends consulted Tuesday guardian for employment opportunities. Fast forward five years to 2010 and what do you see? Nairaland, naijahotjobs, NBF social website, Careers Nigeria, kerewa.com etc. These are the free job listing websites where a job seeker will not only find vacancies but also tips on writing a CV, interview tips etc.
What all these mean is that the traditional business model (of generating revenue solely from paper sale and advert placement) adopted by most newspapers are dated.
“The large profit margins newspapers enjoyed in the past were built on an artificial scarcity: Limited choice for advertisers as well as readers. With the Internet, that scarcity has been taken away and replaced by abundance. No [dreaming] will be able to restore newspapers’ revenues to what they were before the emergence of online [content]. It is not a question of analog dollars versus digital dimes, but rather a realistic assessment of how to make money in a world of abundant competitors and consumer choice.”
To succeed in contemporary Nigeria, a newspaper house must:
- Review its editorial and news judgment policies. Content is king and the earlier a newspaper realizes this, the better. Readers should be provided with relevant and quality information. The culture of inundating readers with only political stories must be re-examined. There should be less of Zoning, PDP, AC, Jonathan this, IBB that. Of course, that’s just my view. To be sure, a newspaper should use focus group interview to gain valuable insight into what the public want. That is a sure-fire recipe for success. To paraphrase Peter Drucker: “Find out what people want and need, and give it to them – and your business will succeed”.
- Get marketing savvy. Let’s hear from Peter Drucker again: “because the purpose of business is to create a customer (in our case subscribers, advertisers etc), the business enterprise has two and only two basic functions—marketing and innovation”. In fact, I will recommend that every newspaper house have a business building task force comprising of members from editorial, marketing, distribution, production departments. This task force should be headed by a professional business development executive (preferably from outside the organization). Incompetent marketing is the single biggest reason Nigerian newspapers are struggling to survive. For example, when Guardian newspaper (?) increased its cover price from N100 to N150 two years ago, all the other papers followed suit. And they all gave the same reason—increased production cost.
Were I a newspaper publisher then, I would not have followed suit. I would have:
- Retained N100 cover price. Pricing is an important marketing element. Pricing my paper at N100 will automatically make my paper accessible to more people.
- Reduced the average number of pages in my paper by as much as 50%. This will more than makeup for my low cover price.
- Positioned my paper as a time and value conscious paper that gives readers all the relevant and important news in a straight-to-the-point-way.
- Leveraged my (brand) asset. The greatest asset newspapers have is their recognition (supposedly) as a reliable source of information. This is an asset that can be leveraged for financial gain (ethically).
This is where Business Day newspaper comes to mind. As the name indicates, Business Day is a Lagos based business daily. It has lower circulation figure than most other major Nigerian newspapers but, it is in better shape financially than most.
The reason is not farfetched. There is no week the paper does not carry a special report on one segment of the Nigerian economy or the other. Because the paper has the reputation as a credible source of information about the Nigerian business environment, companies pay to be featured in special reports about their industry.
There are so many other ways a newspaper can leverage its brand equity, all that is needed is creative thinking.
Cut costs. There’s no doubt that growth will not come from fancy offices and car services and wardrobe allowances. So cut the hell out of your costs. Outsource nonessential functions. Move to Ibafo (yes like Punch Newspaper), at least this will save you from the excruciating taxation in Lagos state.
Embrace the internet – that’s where the future lies.
Drop idealistic posturing and face reality. This will obviously not go down with my journalist friends but it is the truth. Forget the fourth estate of the realm; forget conscience of the nation; forget societal watchdog, a newspaper is a business venture whose ultimate success will be determined by financial metrics.
I will conclude with these words from Jeff Jarvis “we now operate in an economy of abundance, not scarcity. So trying to convince readers to pay premium prices for content when content is anybody’s game is a fool’s paradise. But I do think you can sell merchandise to the people formerly known as readers as long as you take on the skills of the merchandise. And that ain’t editors”.