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Ken Doctor: Six months after launching a local news company (in an Alden market), here’s what I’ve learned
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Jan. 29, 2021, 11:02 a.m.
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LINK: nation.africa  ➚   |   Posted by: Sarah Scire   |   January 29, 2021

The Daily Nation has a message for its readers. There’s “no free lunch” and, starting Friday, their journalism will have a price tag, too. The Nairobi-based newspaper — the largest in Kenya — is adopting a paywall in what appears to be a first for African-owned media in the region.

To read Nation articles more than seven days old — like this report that thousands of students have failed to turn up at schools after their nine-month closure due to Covid-19 or a viral column asking “Who is the banana republic now?” following the U.S. Capitol riot — users will have to pay up. Subscriptions start at 50Ksh for one week, 150Ksh for one month, or 750Ksh for one year. (50Ksh is about 45 cents USD.)

Mutuma Mathiu, the editorial director of Nation Media Group, wrote the “no free lunch, no free content” column explaining the decision to readers:

There is no such thing as free content. You probably didn’t write out a cheque, but you paid. The government maybe took the money from you and gave it to some corporation to give you the content. Or wrote a law, or regulation, requiring you to pay licence fees to a so-called public broadcaster.

If, for real, you didn’t pay a coin, then the content is not the product, as they say. You are.

Traditionally, people have been happy with someone selling their eyeballs in exchange for content. So you watched the ads on TV or viewed them in a newspaper, somebody paid the newspaper company and thereby subsidised the content.

The trouble is that people are spending more time on their phones than they do on TV or newspapers. They want to catch up with the news on those devices and they do not necessarily want to be bothered with advertising …

Am I saying advertising is a bad thing? No. Am I saying advertisers are bad people? Absolutely not. Am I saying advertising will disappear? Not a chance. But I am saying that, in the current scheme of things, the bulk of the advertising money does not end up with the content creator and, therefore, the creator can’t continue creating unless an alternative source of revenue is found to sustain its operations.

Mathiu goes on to predict the Nation readers should expect other publications to follow its lead:

Our world is going to change radically in the coming days. But for the better. While the bulk of the content on offer will continue to be free, a bit of it will not. I see publishers in Africa allowing their loyal consumers free access to content on a metered basis: You read and share a certain number of stories absolutely free and then, at some point, you are required to subscribe to the platform.

I also see a fee being charged for the most exclusive content, though a very small one. This returns power to the consumer: Citizens can shape the agenda of the country and the relationship between journalist and audience will regain its nobility. It will also result in an improvement in the quality and professionalism of the content process. Why? If your content is not up to scratch, you will not survive.

You can read more from the Nation here, including a recent critique from its public editor that articles about American figures have dislodged local news from the Daily Nation’s pages in recent days. (“Are readers really worried about what is happening in America more than what is happening in their own country? Do they really care to read about Melania, Trump, Biden and Harris more than they want to read about Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, Raila Odinga, Moses Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka, Moses Wetang’ula and even Francis Atwoli?”) Nation Media Group also owns The East African, a weekly; Business Daily Africa; Daily Monitor; The Citizen; and other outlets.

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