To Publish Online or not to

Ghana’s media landscape is undergoing a quiet revolution as more publications opt for online publishing instead

There is a silent revolution going on in the Ghanaian media space. This might not be obvious to majority of newspaper readers but to publishers, the inclement economic climate has forced their hands to either be part of the new media or end up as a sorry statistics when a headcount of failed publications is done.

Within the past five years especially, many newspapers have increased their visibility by publishing online versions of their reports, according to Mr. Jeorge Wilson Kingson, coordinator of the online publishers’ unit which is part of the Private Newspapers’ Publishers’ Association of Ghana (PRINPAG). Going online, he intimated, was unwillingly forced on them by the last increase in the cover price of newspapers and the ever depreciating Cedi against the dollar which by extension kept pushing up production cost both in terms of newsprint but also other inputs like ink, plate, distribution costs, among others.

‘The increasing publishing cost meant many of the smaller papers had to cut their overhead costs to remain relevant in the market. By cutting cost meant their market share too was dwindling when taken into consideration the fact that with all things being equal, these smaller papers cannot compete against the giant state-owned papers that have a lot to their advantage in terms of circulation figures, pagination, readership and market reach. In addition, these state-owned operators do not buy newsprint on the open market like the smaller publishing houses, as they prefer to import in bulk. Opting to go online was therefore a marketing decision which many opted for knowing that the alternative has also given us a wider reach,’ he added.

According to him, publishers who opted to go online have no regrets at all as it has helped cut down on their overhead costs and also greater visibility and international credibility.

Unfortunately, many publishers never anticipated the huge economic advantages of going online; some saw it as just one of those trade gimmicks that give your paper a name and exposure but only serves more as a window dressing than a marketing tool to place your media outlet among the elite and pace setters in the fast changing global media landscape. As far as the newspapers then were concerned, their print was enough to give them the circulation, reach; power and voice they need to win a chunk of the Ghanaian advertising spend.

Not having envisaged the potential of the online becoming the in-thing and the game changer, these papers chose instead to give their published stories to the then major Ghanaian online news portal: ghanaweb.com which thereafter uploaded and published them and their opinions on their site. With time ghanaweb.com became the major Ghanaian news site and that was when the local newspapers woke up to the huge market potentials embedded in going online.

While the print houses are just waking up to the reality of being present online, the radio stations realizing this long ago included that in their calculations. Thus Multimedia Broadcasting, while setting up Joy FM added myjoyonline.com initially as a support but now as a full department with its own staff; a development that has been adopted by almost all the major radio/electronic media houses: from Omni Media (Citi FM) to Despite Multimedia (Peace FM) to Media General (TV3) which recently employed a full time general manager for its online publications most especially as its affiliate radio stations all over the country have online presence and hence must be coordinated.

The Graphic Communications Group, Ghana’s most successful newspaper publishing house has also joined the online competition with their Graphic Online which according to credible sources has proved to be a roaring financial success as it is making much more money than its decades-old print version.

Having realized these huge potentials, the battle to dominate the online market has intensified with the earlier arrivals like ghanaweb already reaping from where they have diligently sown over the years as they reportedly even reject adverts that they do not think are in line with their editorial policy.

According to Mr. Kingson, the credibility established by some of the online platforms is paying off as some multinational players like Google also pay them through adsense though other agencies are also in the market financially rewarding some of the local news websites.

CHALLENGES

Going online does not however mean that things have become easier for the local online news portals as some of the problems they encountered when in print still persist. They include the financial muscle to employ more reporters and extend their hands outside their domains: to be present everywhere at once and compete against the giants in the field already knowing that visibility matters a lot in this business.

Again, the cost of data is also a letdown to some of the small time operators as news portals must be accessible at all times both day and night which so far the big boys have succeeded in doing.

‘To succeed, one must have a broadband connection at all times which means those who rely on buying data on piecemeal basis are losing out, while the recent increase in the communications service tax (CST), has not helped matters, but we are trying to remain there,’ Mr. Kingson added.

Web Designers

Outside the data cost, the web designers have also cashed in on the upsurge in the desire to own and operate a website not just by news publishers but all organisations who rely on them for both design and hosting. However, site owners are wringing their hands over their escalating cost too as they are totally at the mercy of the designers/hosts.

To be fair to the designers, they serve as gate keepers as they are responsible for installing all the antivirus software needed to protect the sites from external hackers.

‘What they do for us is important but their cost is going up and getting out of reach, but we need them too. Recently, my site was attacked because it was not well secured and it cost me an arm and a leg to get it fixed and brought back on stream and in-between the disruption and the re-launch I know how much I lost; financially it cost me a lot.

‘That is the downside of publishing online: the threat from hackers which forces us to rely on outsiders for technical support. When we grow to that level to own our own servers we will still need these technical people to protect us and in this business as new viruses are being developed daily while hackers too are on the prowl to disrupt your operations some for political and economic reasons while others too are doing so as pure mischief,’ stated Mr. Kingson, who is also the Managing Editor at ghananewsonline.com.gh.

But in all, he will still opt for online publishing despite its challenges most especially as it gives the publication that worldwide viewership/readership which the print/hard copy versions seriously lack.

In addition that international visibility and exposure is a sure bet to bring in other business opportunities though the threat from hackers is one fact online publishers have to live with throughout the life of the publication.

He was however very clear on one thing. ‘Many people have tried to publish magazines and newspapers online and these publishers have been mostly fresh tertiary graduates who believe that going on line, writing a blog with a following is akin to raking in money. The website might be popular with a followership but converting it into a commercial success is where the challenge is.

‘One year after publishing and with no financial rewards to show, many have chickened out which is the worst part because the inability to renew one’s subscription to the hosting company automatically takes one offline, and renewing that pact later costs a lot more. So it is not just about having a website but making it relevant, current and a commercial success is the challenge being faced by all of us.’

By Kafui Gale-Zoyiku

 

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