Over the years, newspapers single-copy sale has dwindled significantly due to the advent of digitisation and other variables. DAMILOLA TIAMIYU examines how the vendors still stay in business despite the challenges
Digitisation came with numerous benefits and challenges. It is perhaps the major reason the newspaper business is facing many challenges across the world. With the changing times, economic challenges and the advent of technology, the future indeed looks bleak for the newspaper businesses.
Many have quit the business, while potential entrants are scared.
Having identified the challenges, newspaper publishers are veering into other news channels, like online publishing, to still remain in business.
Impact of technology
Without doubt, technology has made the world faster, easier, more convenient and contributed to business growth and information flow, thus improving the world drastically.
However, it has impounded the prospects in the newspaper business, rupturing revenue generation.
“The business was vibrant in the past when the (Nigerian) economy was stable. Newspaper vending was one of the lucrative businesses. But today, the advent of technology has affected the wide patronage that newspapers enjoyed.
“The business is fading off fast. For example, when news breaks, the newspapers have to wait till the next day to sell it. But with the online platform, news can be reported immediately and when it comes out in the paper, people just read to get the details,” explained Mr Segun Oloruntobi, a newspaper vendor of over 10 years.
Another vendor, Mr Innocent Okeke, who has been in the business for about 15 years, said that economic crunch might have forced people to buy papers only when an interesting story breaks.
He told Africana Entrepreneur, “In the past, my business was really booming. It served as a good source of income. Over time, sales and profit reduced drastically. Many don’t buy newspaper unless there is trending stories or breaking news.”
Mr Kasim Akim, who sells newspaper in Ikeja, stated that though he started the business 15 years ago, it was his only means of livelihood. At that time, what he earned was enough to fend for his family. He lamented that it had been very difficult for him to make sales, as people rely on the internet for news.
He added that his customers were majorly passers-by and people going to their offices, who stop by to read the headlines.
Akim, who said that he was still in the business in order not to stay idle, with the hope that things would change for the better, advised anyone planning to venture into the business to find a strategic place to sell.
Dominance and dependence on digital media did not only threaten the newspaper business, it also provided the readers alternatives. Nowadays, people prefer reading news on their digital devices, instead of purchasing newspapers from the vendors.
Some who manage to buy newspapers have no choice. Job-seekers and professionals buy some newspapers on some particular days of the week to read specialised stories or search for fresh job openings.
Happiness Ndubuisi, a realtor, shared his view with Africana Entrepreneur. “I read newspaper basically to check updates that I’m being directed to check in the newspaper. I prefer hearing the news from someone who had read the newspaper or a witness because I don’t have the patience to read.”
But an advertising practitioner, Kunle Oyefi, reads the papers online because of the nature of his job.
He told Africana Entrepreneur, “Due to the nature of my job, I don’t have time to read the newspaper. I just go online and read news stories that are of interest to me.”
Fears of extinction
USA Today circulates about 800,000 hard copies daily. This proves that the newspaper hard copy has come to stay, even amid technology. But some believe that it will go extinct in Nigeria.
Oyefi said, “We have witnessed many changes over the years, which cuts across technology. Newspapers will go into extinction. It’s a fate that can’t be changed.”
He was supported by Ndubuisi who asserted that the newspaper would eventually fade off.
“It has been able to survive thus far because of the authenticity and genuineness of the news it dishes out. The trust of actual account is keeping the newspaper going. No company or organisation would want to run its business relying on internet gist. Technology is growing and won’t stop growing. The only way vendors can survive is to be innovative about it and grow alongside digitisation,” he stated.
Gbemisola Famose, a customer care representative, reads newspapers for entertainment stories and trends because she likes to stay atop news relating to that segment. Like most people, she prefers to read news on digital platforms because of the affordability and other factors.
“I think the newspaper will not survive this digitisation. Sometimes, when I see these vendors on the streets of Lagos, I get curious and ask who really patronises them at this age and time.
“In my opinion, those who still patronise the newspaper vendors have not evolved with the digital age. Some people buy sports newspapers because they are cheap and can be used for relaxation purposes. Nothing can be done to salvage the fallback of newspapers because the reading culture has also dwindled, as it is no longer a form of relaxation for people,” Famose said.
Survival of newspaper vendors
Newspaper agencies have been able to identify the cause of poor sales, which is the establishment of online news channels.
Unfortunately, it is a different scenario entirely for newspaper vendors, who despite identifying the greatest threat to their business can do little or nothing to restore readers’ interest.
But there is always a way. Most of these vendors have incorporated other items to their newspaper business. Others who are quite lucky penetrated corporate organisations and government establishments for daily supplies.
“People that buy papers are buying for filing purposes, reference keeping, advert purposes, change of name and so on. The business has not been as lucrative as it used to. We only make sales from the small number of people that still like to read papers.
“To sustain my business, I supply government parastatals and corporate organisations. They have even reduced how they buy newspapers, but I still maintain the relationship to sustain the business,” Oloruntobi explained.
Okeke added that the business had proven to be an unreliable means of income. Because of that, other minor businesses have to be incorporated into it. He had to start advertising, publications and doorstep delivery. He also sells books.
Since he believed that the glory days of newspaper vending was over, he advised, “If anyone would want to start the business, he should add some side hustle to it.”
Oyefi urged vendors to be innovative. “Many individuals do not buy newspapers. I don’t think anything can be done to increase the purchasing power for newspapers. Maybe if the vendors come up with innovative ways to sell, sales will improve.”
However, some unscrupulous vendors reportedly engage in sharp practices. While some would charge as low as N20 for a client to read the whole paper and keep, others accept advert inserts without the consent of the publisher. Yet some others would sell free weekend magazine inserts in newspapers like The Guardian (Life) and Vanguard (Allure) separately for extra cash.
Peep into the future
Over the past decade, newspaper vendors and agencies have suffered with trends in technology. The next decade may be worse. So, newspapers need to look at a new approach to the way they operate. Most newspapers need to go digital only.
Meanwhile, some newspapers have created niche websites, while others have found new source of revenue from digital subscribers, sponsored events and newsletters. It will be a significant change for a proud industry that has traditionally valued newsprint and ink, but it may be the only way to survive, as consumers increasingly want their news and entertainment in digital form.
On the part of the vendors, customers have shown that their survival is based on the innovative strategies they develop to align with technological trends.
Although it doesn’t appear rosy, who knows what the future really holds for the newspaper business?