The trials and tribulations of print media in Uganda

The trials and tribulations of print media in Uganda
Print media in Uganda

Uganda’s print media industry has grown tremendously in a relatively short period of time compared to other countries within the region.

The New Vision, Uganda’s leading daily sells up to 35,000 copies every day. Its annual turn over is approximately 40 billion shillings. Established in 1986, the New Vision has witnessed a steady growth from a time when it virtually didn’t have any competitor to early 1990’s when the Monitor (now Daily Monitor) entered the market.

The Daily Monitor sales are estimated at 25,000-30,000 each day. Print media in Uganda has overtaken that of neighboring Tanzania in terms of quality and content but not in circulation.

Uganda’s print media is currently sold in all the five member states of the East African Community (EAC) although the sales outside Uganda are still meager.

The New Vision again leads in selling most copies with up to 2000 copies sold in Kenya everyday. Rwanda is the second consumer of Ugandan newspapers after Kenya because of its historical links with Uganda. Burundi buys the least number of newspapers from Uganda among the EAC member countries.

The Daily Nation of Kenya which is the largest circulating newspaper in East Africa selling in excess of 200,000 copies every day has achieved this feat because of among other reasons, its long history having been established in 1958, and continuous improvement in its content, design and innovation.

Ugandan newspapers still have a long way to go in spite of the successes so far achieved. According to media analysts the reasons why Uganda’s newspapers sales are still low has been due to small urban elite population that can afford to buy a newspapers plus the high cost of the newspapers.

The cost of producing each copy of a newspaper in Uganda is still high compared to the same in developed countries. Although all daily newspapers are printed locally, the quality of printing has not yet reached the standard of Kenya and South Africa.

There are very many newspapers which begin business in Uganda each year. But a few survive beyond their first anniversary. The rate at which newspapers start is possibly higher than the rate at which they close.

Some publications do not even stay around long enough to be known by a considerable number of people in Kampala. It takes a lot of planning and determination to keep a publication coming out on the streets as scheduled.

Publications (newspapers and magazines) mainly depend on revenue generated from advertisers. But advertisers may not easily choose a medium (read print media) that has not been tested by its track record of consistency.

A newspaper that does not coherently address itself to the requirements of both its readers and advertisers may find it challenging to keep in circulation for a long time.

Apart from advertisers, a publication’s survival almost solely depends on its content and how the same is packaged for the public to appreciate and get the confidence that what they get through buying or advertising in such a paper will give them the leverage over other competing publications.

The other determining factor of newspaper circulation is the population within a country. China, Japan and India have the largest number of newspapers by average circulation because of their high population density.

Yomiuri Shimbum of Japan with an average daily circulation of 14 Million copies is by far the best selling newspaper in the world and has held this position for more than five years now.

Of course coupled with big numbers of people is the standard of living in a given country. The higher the standard of living a country enjoys, the more likely its people can afford to buy newspapers and vice versa.

No publication can claim to achieve its audience’s (readers’) expectations all the time. Society’s needs and aspirations are always changing.

A newspaper which therefore relies on present circumstances to consider that it has a fair share of readers and advertisers and does less to reinvent itself through well-thought-out innovative ventures may slowly but surely sink over time.

Editors of newspapers spend sleepless nights thinking of how they can tell a story as differently as possible and in an interesting mode as it can get. They put a lot of pressure on their reporters and writers which leads to stressful lives for the latter.

It is challenging to write a good story. It is even more challenging to write interesting stories consistently.

Every publication needs highly motivated writers who are willing to go the extra mile of delivering a message to the public that would leave both the writer and the reader satisfied that the former has done their best while the latter yarns for more pieces that offer good reading.

It is interesting to note that newspaper and magazine editors are well aware when their publication has not lived up to the expectations of the public.

For instance there are times when a person buys one of the major dailies in Uganda and gets a sense of betrayal because they feel they did not get the worth of their money.

Some newspapers may for example have more of advertisements that news. This is abnormal since readers generally are interested in news than advertisements.

A very small percentage of people buy newspapers to read advertisements unless they are advertising job and vacancies or it is the people who placed those advertisements and want to check that they were produced correctly.

The print industry in Uganda is likely to continue growing but will have to put up with the challenge of facing steep competition from radio, internet and television.

As more people get access to internet, a good number of them will choose to read the news from the net while others may opt for radio as their major source of information.

Newspapers are going to find themselves in an unenviable situation of whether to publish their news on the internet and allow people to read it free of charge or withhold it to force them to buy printed copies which would mean losing out on possible advertisers on the newspaper websites.

Whichever trend the print media chooses to take there are likely to be obstacles brought about due to information age and globalization. It is survival for the fittest.

by Mutabazi Sam Stewart