• August 12th, 2020

Time for local print industry to venture into regional publications

The local print industry is gasping for air due to the steady drop in advertising revenues. Newspaper sales have also drastically declined. Advertising revenues that disappeared during the economic meltdown have never returned. Businesses have greatly scaled down on their marketing budgets. Moreover, the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation for the distressed print media. To stay afloat, local newspapers have restructured and are now operating with smaller newsrooms. Some have opted to print online to save cost. Windhoek Observer, The Patriot, Namibian Economist and Infomante are now printing online. Their plight was also compounded by the high cost of printing. Also, the lack of advertising revenues and disruption from digital media is the reason the print industry remains in the doldrums. They have created websites to capture readers and advertising online. But they’re still learning how to make real money from online advertising and subscriptions. Print newspapers still generate a larger portion of their incomes from print advertising and circulation. Therefore, the question arises as what the local print industry needs to do to diversify its revenue stream. One of the best ways is to invest in regional newspapers including vernacular papers. There is also a market for a specialised publication serving particular economic sectors like tourism, real estate, or SMEs. The New Era Publication Corporation could be in a good place by now, should they have got it right with Kundana newspaper. Kundana was launched in 2013 as a national newspaper published in Oshiwambo. For me, Kundana ought to be a niche paper reporting news in the four northern regions of Oshana, Oshikoto, Ohangwena and Omusati. Today, the once-promising paper is published as a two-page insert in New Era. The Namibian never tried to venture into the vernacular domain, apart from two pages it allocates to Oshiwambo in its daily editions. Namibia Media Holding’s Ewi LyaNooli is another that was meant to be a niche community paper for northern regions. The monthly paper currently comes out as an insert in the Namibian Sun. History tells us people in the regions, mostly in northern Namibia always enjoyed reading in their local languages. During their heydays – the Omukuni and Omukwetu newspapers were widely read in the north. The now-defunct Omukuni was published by the Roman Catholic Church in Namibia. 

Omukwetu, which is in dire financial state, was first, published in 1901 by the Evangelical Lutheran Mission, the precursor of Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia. And with a high literacy rate in the region, that extensive readership is still there. Besides, with local language newspapers, publishers don’t have to worry about competing with digital media. Readers in this segment are not in a race to go digital – they are still comfortable getting their news in a traditional way. Therefore, news publishers are doing themselves disservice for ignoring this market. Regional language papers are likely to perform better because of their direct connection to local communities. People will take pride in regional papers because they cover local news that is relevant to them. During my time as news editor at The Southern Times, our coverage was mostly concentrated in Windhoek due to budgetary constraints. People in other regions did not care much about the paper, because the content is not relevant to them. There were plans afoot to launch a community paper to tap into the resourcefulness of the people in Katutura. The idea was to cover issues concerning the people in Katutura, Windhoek’s high-density suburb. I hope it is still in the pipeline because that is the right way to go for local news publishers. Marketing budgets are still tight, but this does not mean businesses are not yearning for additional ways to reach out to consumers.  Consumer good companies are looking for innovative ways to reach out to local language-speaking middle class in small towns and villages across the country. If given a platform – they will not hesitate to adapt their adverts to local languages. So, amid the gloom – I believe regional papers provide a ray of hope for our floundering print industry.
*Andreas Thomas spent his journalism career at The Southern Times and Windhoek Observer. He is currently providing a range of writing services to SMEs and individuals.

Staff Reporter
2020-06-19 09:56:47 | 1 months ago

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