OPINION:Covid-19 may finally bury print media in Nigeria

COVID-19 May Push Print Media Industry To Precipice, By Abiola Ayankunbi

The problems of those saddled with managing operations in the print media firms have been compounded.

Although, this is not applicable to the media firms only; it is just that the business environment is not conducive enough for any business to thrive. The firms’ sources of income have dried up. With Nigeria’s ever dynamic business environment, a curveball can come from any place where a portion of business may suddenly dry up and strategic plans that made sense years ago may need serious review to compete in ever-more-mobile, internet dependent society.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, virtually all the media houses have reduced their print runs by almost 50℅ and half of these reduced figures are not even sold. The reason for this, is not far fetched! Restriction on both human and vehicular movements is the main cause. Few people are clustering around newsstands to read copies for free. Difficulties are being experienced to move copies from one point to the other. Just because of 150 copies, a distribution van is being deployed to cover a distance of over 200kms. It has not even occurred to the media managers to explore issue of official joint distribution.

Arguably, total sales may not even cover the cost of plates. I base my argument on the fact that four plates are needed for a coloured page. A newspaper of 48 coloured pages requires 192 plates (CTP) and each costs an average of N2,500.00. This amounts to N480,000.00. It means that 4,800 copies of a particular newspaper are required to be sold in order to cover cost of plate only. How many of the media firms are presently printing 4,800 copies per day, nationwide? The much needed advert revenue has dried up during this period!

The challenges facing the newspaper industry worldwide are enormous, notably low sales, poor advert patronage, migration to online, breaking news/time factor, losing revenue to other media, oral tradition, declining in purchasing power, generalised contents, near sameness in nearly all publications, low readership and changing readership demographics.
Virtually all newspapers are experiencing either dwindling or stagnated growth in both copy and advertising revenues.

The newspaper industry has always been cyclical, and the industry has weathered previous storms. But televisions’ arrival in the 1950s started the decline of newspapers’ importance as most people’s source of daily news, the explosion of the internet in the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century increased the panoply of media choices available to the average reader while further cutting into newspapers’ hegemony as the source of news. Both television and the Internet bring news to the consumer faster and in a more visual style than newspapers, which are constrained by their physical form and the need to be physically manufactured and distributed.

As their revenues have been squeezed, newspapers have also been increasingly assailed by other media taking away not only their readers, but their principal sources of profit. Many of these ‘new media’ are not saddled with expensive union contracts, printing presses, delivery fleets and overhead built over decades. Many of these competitors are simply ‘aggregators’ of news, often derived from print sources, but without print media’s capital-intensive overhead.

It is ironic that this once powerful industry is declining! The media industry in Nigeria is caught in the web of great depression and recession. There is a problem of a dispossessed economic environment, which has reduced the purchasing power of the reading public. It must be recalled that the cost of production has increased to an almost unmanageable level based on the fact that virtually every input required for production is imported.

Unfortunately, majority of media managers seems not prepared for the huge task ahead of them. It is like a succession process; Editors always become Managing Directors/Editors in Chief and in most instances, they are ill prepared because the departure of the last occupant has always been a sudden one. Once a new MD assumes duty, he starts thinking of the friendly governors or corporate organizations who can part with money for media mentioning. This is not the best; concern should be on how to build an enduring newspaper that will stand the test of time.

The law of nature dictates that when one is in a pit, the first thing is to stop digging but device means of exiting the pit. Continuing printing of newspapers at this period is like compounding the financial woes of the establishment. These newspapers should stop further production of hard copies and in the alternative, migrate online while the scourge lasts. The companies may decide to produce but limit the circulation to the areas or locations that are closer to their printing presses. Whichever one, the stakeholders need to be carried along. One thing is crystal clear, the industry will not be the same after COVID-19.

Ayankunbi is the MD/CEO of AbingMO3 Marketing Management Consultancy.

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