A new model and a new source of revenue dubbed paywalls is gaining traction among traditional newspapers in Botswana as the old guard races against time to avert dwindling advertising revenue stream.
Paywalls are popping up across all traditional newspaper websites in the country, a move that will compel readers to dig deep into their pockets to pay for online content.
Media experts in Botswana are divided on the adoption of paywalls among traditional newspaper online content.
One media expert heaped praises on the move, while one expert argues that the paywall will collapse since most of the target market for paywalls are millennials who will look for an alternative source for news as opposed to paying for content online.
A tabloid newspaper, The Voice which prides itself as the most-read newspaper countrywide, with a print run of 35,000 has already jumped on the paywall bandwagon.
The publication, which has a huge presence on social media, has already setup up a registration gate on its website as it migrates to a paywall.
“This is part of our digital strategy to overcome challenges that come with publishing digitally, especially with the fierce and unfair competition by the duopoly of Google and Facebook who are swallowing the advertising market with their innovations that are targeted at the same market as news publishers,” said The Voice digital editor, Innocent Tshukudu.
A United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) analysis of the media development trends shows that both new audiences and advertising revenue have moved in huge numbers to internet platforms, with the duopoly of Google and Facebook taking half of the global digital advertising spending.
Tshukudu is of the view that as a print publication in a transitioning context they have realised that the digital landscape is not offering them many privileges over the distribution channels and that online advertising alone cannot sustain quality journalism, hence the decision to monetise their content.
“Tech giants are taking away the largest chunk of the advertising market and it is upon us as news publishers to ensure that we do not outsource our creativity for free, hence the urgent need to adopt paywalls and other innovative revenue streams,“ added Tshukudu. He emphasised that their market research suggests that most readers are reluctant to pay for content.
Tshukudu said that currently, they are in a stage where it is more of a testbed, not all content will be placed behind the subscriber paywall.
“We have since set up a registration gate on our website which will help us with the audience data that will point us in the direction of the content of popular interest that we will publish as premium content. The idea is to charge a small amount for the premium content so that everyone can afford it,” he explained.
He said that the audience data that they are currently collecting will tell them to channel their resources towards popular content that they will publish as premium.
“We are eagerly awaiting to experience the jolt of that touchdown, but we hope it will positively impact our revenue strategy,“ he said.
He indicated that currently, they have a growing number of over 5,000 subscribers for their newly introduced e-paper.
“We hope to triple that number within a year with the introduction of the paywall and a robust digital strategy,” said Thsukudu.
Community Media Foundation coordinator, Thapelo Ndlovu has hailed newspaper migration to paywalls in Botswana arguing that the media incur costs to produce the stories.
Currently, seven traditional newspapers have shifted to a paywall.
“I have a problem with paying for a story that I have already paid for in print copy. There should be a way to link the two to avoid double payment,“ said Thapelo.
He indicated that in principle, there is no going back to digitalisation and the consumers cannot expect to have free services without regard to expenses incurred in producing stories.
“The expectation is that the paywall should be more affordable for both production and consumption. The challenge especially in Africa is poor infrastructure and unreliable services such as electricity and poor internet connections. Eventually print will be some delicacy, afforded by a few,” added Ndlovu.
Meanwhile, Botswana Guardian editor, Justice Kavahematui revealed that they introduced a paywall last year in November after revamping their website.
He said that initially, they ran two separate websites for their two publications which are Botswana Guardian and MidweekSun, but after revamping the website they came up with a single website that carries both content for Botswana Guardian and Midweeksun.
He said that readers can only access their online content for two publications through subscriptions while print editions for two publications are also distributed countrywide.
“The paywall was part of the strategy to increase revenue and increase their presence online. We saw that there was an opportunity to provide content for a fee,” he said.
Kavahematui was of the view that there was a need to increase its presence online through a paywall since newspapers were losing readers to other streams such as social media.
He said that traditional media was not spared by the arrival of new media where other newspapers completely closed business while others migrated online.
Kavahematui could not provide statistics safe to say the newspaper just recently recruited a resources person to man up the online publication after introducing a paywall.
He also noted that the shift to a paywall was paramount since it was evident that social media and the arrival of the internet affected circulation and revenue streams.
“Circulation has been going down as readers change their reading habits where they access news on social media while companies are advertising on social media,” he added.
A future collapse?
An independent media consultant, Kealeboga Dihutso is of the view that paywalls will eventually collapse in the future.
He fears that readers who are currently being targeted are African millennials.
“They don’t respect content. They don’t want anything to do with spending especially on content. They will look for alternative sources for news as opposed to paying to access news online,” said Dihutso.
He defined the move to migrate to a paywall as a desperate attempt to hold onto a path to sell online content. Dihutso also noted that old consumers used to buy newspapers and with the migration to paywalls the old consumers will also move away.
“Eventually paywalls will collapse,“ he added.
Dihutso is of the view that moving towards a paywall is an indication that the media is regressing when it comes to the democratisation of information that has been in the past, especially in Africa, a sole prerogative of government.
“We are saying that those who have means can pay and access information while those who don’t have resources can’t access information,“ said Dihutso.
“Civic media and user-generated content (UGC) is the future as opposed to a paywall. Civic media is growing and it means we are moving toward the true democratisation of information. Now society is regressing in terms of the democratisation of information but in the future, we will see the democratisation of information going forward,” said Dihutso.
Ndlovu concurs that another likely development will be the rise in the number of non-profit making news platforms and community media that can provide content for free as newspapers shift to paywalls.
“Commercial news platforms are not the only news outlets. There is a need to counter their approach with non-profit making and community media,“ said Ndlovu.
He said that social media will still remain a powerful force to neutralise the government monopoly on the dissemination of information.
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