Last Week, one of the Nation media group’s publication, the Daily Metro carried a big banner headline reading FAREWELL. In the article that followed, the editorial team bid their readers goodbye citing the harsh economic times as the main excuse for the management of East Africa’s largest media house in discontinuing publication.
Actually some analysts feel that the folding up of the Daily Metro was inevitable since it was founded for the sole purpose of countering Radio Africa’s Nairobi Star and forcing them out of publication. It is said that circulation marketers at the Nation felt that despite the fact that the Nairobi Star was targeted at a more specific audience it would eat up on the flag ship Daily Nation’s circulation considerably—if not immediately then definitely in the long term. Whether this is true or not, the fact remains that the Nation has remained at the top because of being highly sensitive to new entrants and possible competition. And the media house has never hesitated to play dirty whenever the need has arisen.
The demise of the Daily Metro has less to do with the current financial downturn and more to do with the way things are run at the Nation. Insiders insist that the giant company is facing a very challenging financial time that has more to do with how quickly the media industry in Kenya has changed. For instance a few years ago Daily newspapers carried the vast majority of advertising spend in the country. Today radio is king. Now this change is significant here because Nation’s flagship and main cash cow is and has always been the Daily Nation newspaper. And although the media group has a radio station or two, there are a number of new kids on the block who have a bigger market share and understand the medium much better. Top on this list is Radio Africa whose Classic FM and Kiss FM lead the roost for English listeners.
My insider information indicates that the decision makers at the media house have now woken up and are smelling the coffee so much so that they are already pursuing the next battle frontier which is the web and to a certain extent Cable TV and TV content. However this has come a little late. For years any new ideas or suggestions for improvements at Nation House would more often than not be met with the arrogant statement “but this is the Nation”—insinuating that the nation was invincible and would continue to do well without any new ideas.
Now with dwindling revenues all round the past has finally caught up with arrogance and it was inevitable that the management would take a look at all titles still costing it cash looking for ways to stem the cash hemorrhage. Next on that list would be the EastAfrican a regional newspaper launched on the assumption that regional integration would have moved much faster than it has to date. This prestigious and excellent publication has never made a dime since inception. One of the reasons being it’s unnecessarily high overheads where huge bureau offices have been established in neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda where smaller leaner set-ups would have still produced the desired results more so in this age of the World Wide Web where communication costs have come down considerably. However shutting down the EastAfrican is not an option because it is the Aga Khan’s pet newspaper. The Aga Khan is the founder and major shareholder of the Nation Media group.
Yet another title that is currently bleeding badly is the recently launched Business Daily. Mercifully the overheads for that one are pretty small and it can probably be sustained for some time to come.
Interestingly even the Nation’s first ever title Taifa Leo is struggling but for reasons beyond anybody’s control. Apparently the new generation of Kenyans have shunned Kiswahili which was the most popular communication language in the country for many years. This is what led to the huge popularity of the KBC National Kiswahili service over the English General Service radio through the 60s, 70s and 80s.
So where does the Nation media group make their money from? Actually there are only two star cash cows at the moment. Namely the flagship Daily Nation newspaper and the Nation courier service. Interestingly the launching of the courier service was a brilliant way to pay for the mounting costs of circulating the newspaper while earning extra revenue. Without these two cash cows the nation would be very much a struggling ship. Still increasing competition looms in the horizon coupled with some very serious strategic decisions made by the management in the run up to the 2007 general elections. Taking all this into consideration the daily metro may be only the first casualty in a list that will unfold in the weeks and months to come.
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