For the last two or so weeks, the Daily Monitor has been delaying online publication of some of its print newspaper articles. In some cases, the content has been delayed for more than a week. The move, according to editors at the daily, is intended to prop up print sales.
It has always been that the Monitor website publishes all articles in the next day’s paper soon after midnight. But for some time now only a few articles are published, while “premium content” is delayed, usually for more than a day.
Charles Odoobo-Bichachi, Monitor’s top editor, said they are targeting more newspaper sales with the strategy. Publishing everything online had hit sales hard, he said, giving as an example the decline in corporate subscriptions. Some companies no longer bought the newspaper since they could read it from the website.
The decision, which has not been announced, was made on the fly.
Initially, we thought there was a problem with Monitor’s website when we first noticed, two weeks ago, that it was not updated as regularly as before. But checking Monitor’s Twitter timeline, we found updates of lead stories that were never published on the homepage being sent out a few days later.
Digging around, on Twitter, we found this exchange with Tabu Butagira, a managing editor at Monitor, which confirmed our suspicion.
— Tabu Butagira (@tbutagira) October 12, 2016
The newspaper sold an average of 19,052 copies from Monday to Friday in the second quarter of this year, according to figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. That is 741 copies less than it did in the first quarter, and 693 copies less than in the corresponding period last year.
The figures place Monitor second after New Vision. It regained the position after a drop in sales of Bukedde, the Luganda language tabloid published by Vision Group.
Still, the newspaper’s executives want more. An increase in print circulation means will make the newspaper more attractive to advertisers who will place more ads. Print ad space happens to be much more lucrative than online adverts, a market the newspaper seems to be in command of; its website is the most visited Ugandan web property, according to the analytics website Alexa.
It is the second move taken by the newspaper in as many months to increase circulation. At the end of September, Monitor and Jumia Food announced a partnership in which the two companies would capitalise on the other’s strengths. Monitor would use Jumia’s platforms – a food ordering website and app – to circulate its flagship newspaper, while Jumia gets promotion on Monitor’s platforms in return.
We pointed out at the time that Monitor faced an uphill battle since all its content was online, while most of Jumia’s users were most likely web-savvy – the type of people who might prefer reading a newspaper online instead of buying a physical copy.
Even then, the website’s quiet subordination seems to run counter to recent changes at the newspaper. A shake-up in Monitor’s editorial leadership was justified as the most important step to a digital first strategy. Under the new structure, Monitor would prioritise publishing developing stories to the website instead of reserving them for the next day’s newspaper.
In Bichachi’s words, it would “deliver credible news to the online audience as it breaks, then provide the explanatory and day-two journalism in the newspaper.” What was not said was that the newspaper’s day-two journalism would be withheld from the website.
But, it’s difficult not to feel Monitor’s dilemma. Newspapers are yet to figure out how to monetise web views even as their circulation shrinks. It may have the most popular newspaper website, but whatever income it brings cannot make up for the advertising revenue lost through declining copy sales.
New Vision, Monitor’s biggest competitor, did what Monitor is doing a few years ago and stuck with it. Its website rarely publishes newspaper articles. Instead, it serves up articles from its online team, stories from wire sources, and opinion editorials. Plus, lots of photographs and contributions from their entertainment writers (content its website layout looks optimised for).
To access the New Vision’s more serious and analytical reporting, you have to buy the newspaper – either on a stand, or an electronic copy. We are not sure what impact this has had on newspaper sales or, for that matter, how many people buy the electronic newspaper.
The Monitor also has an electronic newspaper sold through subscription. But Uganda Business News understands that there are no conclusive plans yet to move to New Vision’s model or, for that matter, the newspaper paywalls used by media groups outside Uganda; the New York Times, for example. The current model seems more like an experiment that could take any direction.