PRINT media in countries such as India and Namibia are thriving, so we are told. Circulations in Namibia are on the rise, and the ‘threat’ from digital platforms such as the Internet is negligible. In India, print circulations were, like Namibia, rising along with the growth in adult literacy. But the warning signs are on the wall. Datawatch (www.themediabriefing.com) notes that, from 2010 to 2011, circulations started to fall. The Hindi language Dainik Bhaskar saw circulations halved, and the conclusion is that “growth in the Indian newspaper market has at the very least stalled.” Print newspaper circulation globally is declining, along with magazine readership. In Romania it dropped by 40 percent and in Spain by 10 percent. Part of the reason, of course, is the rapid rise, especially in developing countries, of smart phone technology and Internet access. Namibia is no exception. With a rapidly growing 3G (and now 4G) wireless network young people in particular are increasingly using their cell phones to access international social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, but also updating themselves on current happenings through ‘traditional’ newspaper websites online.
And this is where things become a challenge. Historically, Namibian newspapers have encouraged their users to access websites as an alternative to buying the newspaper. So www.namibian.com.na or www.newera.com.na have become very popular sites, not only with Namibian but international readers as well. An estimated 12 638 people ‘like’ New Era on Facebook, and 24 224 ‘like’ The Namibian. Increasingly, readers (especially impoverished students) will be asking why they are paying a hefty cover price (between N$2.00 and N$4.00 a day) and wading through pages of advertising, when they can see the same news (advert free, ironically) on the website? Another digital advantage is that news on a website can be rapidly updated. The Facebook generation, for example, can’t be bothered waiting 24 hours or longer for information about a story – they want the news now! Thirdly, the website also allows that important element of interactivity. Users want to share and react to the story immediately and they would find the concept of sending a ‘letter to the editor’ (for publication a week later) or even SMS message (for publication tomorrow or the day after) somewhat archaic.
Because of ease of use, newspaper journalists, and even, incredibly, editors, seem to love Facebook. They ‘publish’ their stories there, update them, and even put tomorrow’s front page on Facebook, thinking it will generate interest in tomorrow’s edition. They forget, of course, that in the digital age we can’t wait. They are, in effect, reminding us of the great disadvantage of print – that we will have to wait until tomorrow to read it. We will have to go out of our homes to find a newspaper seller and we will have to pay money to read something that (tantalisingly) we can already see on Facebook for free! In addition, Facebook (an American company) is starting to rake in the dollars from Namibian advertisers. The Namibian Facebook page, for instance, prompts readers to click in order to ‘create an ad’. Unfortunately that revenue won’t be going to The Namibian, nor to any Namibian company, but to Facebook itself. And this foreign website is where our local news organisations increasingly present ‘breaking news’ linking to other foreign websites. The news about the Oscar Pistorius hearing on August 19, 2013 appeared on The Namibian Facebook stream a matter of hours after the event. However, the link for the story was not The Namibian website, and not even a Namibian news agency, but a UK newspaper, The Guardian. Our real strategic advantage, as Namibian media houses, surely remains our local content. Perhaps therefore the future growth will be to leverage this content across digital platforms to the maximum and to start generating revenue.
http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/aug/19/oscar-pistorius-trial-march-2014 Thus, Namibian Sun has announced a new mobi site, but access to it will be at a ‘nominal fee’. This is the route that many international papers (The Times, Daily Telegraph, New York Times) are taking, with the Daily Telegraph, for instance, charging a fee (£1.99 a month) for access to their site (the first 20 views each month are free).
Another digital platform is the e-reader.
A Kindle, for instance, has free access (through the mobile phone networks) anywhere in the world and throughout Namibia, and media houses are starting to exploit this. I am a subscriber (at US$17.99 a month) to the UK Guardian, and read it electronically after it is ‘delivered’ to my Kindle every morning. Ironically, no Namibian newspaper is available on Kindle, and the only African publication thus far to place itself on this e-reader platform is South Africa’s Mail and Guardian.
Perhaps the real media platforms of the future will not even be newspapers at all, but rather the search engines. The popular Google is the starting point for many Namibian web surfers, and Google Trends (www.google.com/trends) shows that Namibians, over the past 30 days, searched for the key words ‘Namibia’ and ‘Facebook’ more than any other (100 searches), as well as ‘You Tube’ and interestingly – ‘news’. So that Google search for ‘news’ and ‘you tube’ (also a Google company) means that Namibian readers are increasingly moving to international platforms for media content, rather than local sites. This, surely, is a dangerous trend, but perhaps presents local media entrepreneurs with a tremendous opportunity to fill that gap with sites of local content, local relevance and local advertising. In that way we can embrace the digital revolution and leverage it for local benefit rather than aiding foreign owned media companies.
• Robin Tyson is lecturer in Media Studies at the University of Namibia (Unam).
By Robin Tyson