“Media houses have relied on advertising and physical copy sales for years. However, with social media and digital advertising platforms offering better analytics and mass reach, most advertisers have moved budgets to those platforms. They have disrupted the way people access content, especially breaking news and advertising through programmatic advertising and rich media,” says Jared Kidambi, ​reader revenue manager at the Standard Group.

Kidambi says that most media platforms are slow to change and do not invest in tech personnel and the ones that have invested in tech teams cannot keep up with the multinationals that offer better packages. As a result of the introduction of social media and the lack of advertising opportunities for media publications, many publications have had to find new and innovative ways to diversify their revenue streams.

“We have invested our energies quite heavily into content marketing (where clients pay to publish their content on our platforms, essentially selling them the strength of our audiences) and have begun our road to reader revenue by launching registrations, which is the precursor to launching a registration wall,” says Lance Witten, editor-in-chief, IOL News.

Kidambi describes the Standard Group’s current revenue model as ‘freemium’ as 80% of their content is free, whilst 20% of the content is behind a paywall. IOL’s current revenue model is a mix of direct advertising, agency sales, brand marketing, content marketing, programmatic advertising, targeted ad buying campaigns, and affiliate marketing via content aggregation websites such as Outbrain, Teads, Vidoomy, Taboola, Oovvuu, and many others.

Taiwo Adebayo, investigations editor at Premium Times Nigeria says the publication uses “a mix of adverts, grants, readers’ fund (donations), and sales of special publications focused on key sectors like the real estate and banking.

Despite these new forms of revenue streams, media publications continue to face challenges in increasing their revenue. “Audiences in Africa are not attuned to paying for news content; they will pay for entertainment content, but not news because it has been free for so long. Second is ensuring our content teams don’t carry marketing or PR content as part of our news mix, as that could harm our content marketing businesses, which seek to urge brands to pay to have their press releases published on our website as partnered or sponsored content,” says Witten.

Kidambi says for most of their readers, paying for content is a new concept and adds “more than 90% of digital payments in Kenya happen via mobile money. Mobile money doesn’t provide auto-renewal, which keeps us at a disadvantage compared to other markets where card payments are the norm”.

Adebayo says that the challenges the publication face are “corporate advertisers seeking to influence journalism and recalling business opportunities when they do not have their way.” Adding that the “worsening economy impacts readers’ ability to donate to fund journalism”.

Are paywalls the future? From the perspective of sub-Saharan Africa, Adebayo says: “I think consideration of the socio-economic situation will discourage more news platforms from adding paywalls. Paywalls will affect citizens’ access to good journalism, the information they require to make informed decisions and ask questions”.

There have been concerns about whether paywalls will kill journalism. However, for Kidambi: “the one thing I like about a paywall is that it moves away from click-baiting for the sake of pushing website traffic to focus on the quality of content produced. In my opinion, a paywall will improve the quality of journalism as publishers will focus on content that is monetisable.”

Witten adds that media publishers need to come together and agree that in order for quality journalism to succeed, audiences need to pay for it, and subscriptions would be the best way to save the industry.

“One of the reasons our industry is in trouble is due to a lack of investment because the business model relied on advertising sales. We need to educate our audiences that without their support, we cannot bring them a quality product. If there is no investment coming in from our audiences, there can be no completely free media because we rely on media owners or sponsors for our survival,” says Witten, adding that “if more pay for a premium subscription, we are then able to start turning a profit and reinvest that into our business to bring even better quality content. Audiences need to understand that without their help, we can’t produce the best quality content, which is what we want to do, and which costs money.”

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