World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

Making the mobile boom work in Africa

World News Publishing Focus

World News Publishing Focus
Your Guide to the Changing Media Landscape

Making the mobile boom work in Africa

Across Africa, newspapers are taking advantage of the continent's cell phone boom.

Currently, 218 million people throughout the continent use their cellphone to go online, and the number is projected to increase to over 435 million by 2015. Newspapers in countries, from South Africa, Ghana to Rwanda, are exploiting this trend as a new way to disseminate news and reach broader readership.

“There are editors who are doing just SMS and then there's people who are doing mobile apps for smart phones,” says Louise Hallman, project manager for the Mobile News for Africa project. “When we talk about mobile Africa, it's not the same in every country. There are major differences between different countries.”

However, Hallman warns that going mobile doesn't necessarily translate into immediate success.

“Everyone is going mobile, but be aware, it's not suddenly going to make your business a lot of money,” she says. “Those who are are successful are because they are innovative and are thinking outside the box to enhance their newspaper.”

While some newspapers are still in the nascent stages of offering this service – basic SMS news alerts – other newspapers are taking its potential further.

For example, a small monthly newspaper in Kampala, Uganda is using Ushahidi, an online and mobile platform that usually tracks violence, post-election fall outs, and peace efforts across Africa, to provide readers with a platform to map the many potholes that dot the city's street.

In Rwanda, another small mobile news service sponsored by WAN-IFRA has started to send out topic-specific SMS messages on agriculture and health issues. Reaching a remote rural population, these new readers had previously been unreached, and left without important news. “They're can now get vital information on a blight of crops, or a disease epidemic,” says Hallman.

Making a profit off of mobile news is another obstacle for many African editors. In Uganda, The Observer makes only 5% on every text message they send out – or a quarter of a cent.

Part of the problem stems from mobile users not having credit on their phone. Nation media in Kenya had a 30% success rate on average. The company is now using M-Pesa, a mobile money transfer service, as a way to ensure that readers who don't have credit at the time of a news blast still receive the news. With M-Pesa, people buy their subscriptions in bulk, with only a small transaction fee.

Another key to capitalizing on mobile news is advertising. So far, many newspapers have not been very innovative, according to Hallman. “They're not very targeted to the market,” she says.

However, one newspaper that has grasped mobile advertising is Grocott's Mail in Grahamstown, South Africa. They've tapped into the mobility of the cell phone user – the ads are targeted for readers who outside, and interested in real time events, ranging from upcoming movie shows, art festivals or specials around town.

In Africa, Hallman says that there's no option to not go mobile – the question though, is how to innovate the traditional text.


Alexandra Waldhorn


2011-10-10 16:58

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