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What’s the story with Alpha Media’s newspaper apps?

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I have always mourned the absence of an app culture in Zimbabwe. We would wish the more we talk about it the more it has an induction effect or simply hope the inevitable happens sooner.

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The most popular apps in Zimbabwe are undoubtedly WhatsApp, Facebook  and a host of browsers. In fact, WhatsApp is so popular it has coined the app term, as in “I will App you later”. The popularity WhatsApp enjoys might not wane, but this one app situation will change as the cost of data decreases and developers and mobile operators promote other applications.

While all this is happening, digital media has seen a more significant footprint with almost all media houses having launched websites for their daily press as a countermeasure to their declining consumption volumes.

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Local media houses have gone digital in as far as having a basic website is concerned. Online Newspapers shows that Zimbabwe has sixty online newspapers in various languages published locally and abroad.

Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) is one local publisher that has gone beyond just a website and developed applications to pull content from their website to the mobile phone as a strategy to increase their visibility, availability and in the process increase market share.

Under the Alpha Media bouquet the applications available are Newsday (1,000 – 5,000 downloads), Southern Eye (100 – 500 downloads), The Standard (100 – 500 downloads) and Zimbabwe Independent (100 – 500 downloads) newspapers and an aggregation ZimMobi News (1,000 – 5,000 downloads). From the statistics on the play store, the applications have been downloaded 11,500 times at most and they are all available for free (download).

How are they making money from these apps?

Frankly speaking, it is difficult to make money from apps in Zimbabwe. The main revenue stream of newspaper publications is advertising, which will not be as popular for apps as it is in print. This is because advertisers still view print as fast moving and they have warmed to its predictability and relative numbers.

Most anti-graft company policies and government policies dictate that advertising and gazettes for public consumption be channelled through state and independent print media.

For AMH, the applications are more for the digital footprint and making available multiple channels for connecting with readers and in the process cultivating loyalty.

An opportunity exists where publications could charge for their content if the content is exclusively available (as does ZimMobi News which charges monthly fees), but as we know, in 2015, that is not a real edge as news is usually captured by most publishers and information doesn’t belong to news companies anymore. Out of a survey by the Guardian, they revealed that only 10% of readers would be willing to pay for content. Considering this is in the developed world, Zimbabwe will no doubt have a lower score.

It’s great that Alpha Media has invested so much into the digital space, specifically apps. But the reality is, print will still be around for a while. It’s even more apparent when you consider how a lot of adverts are only available in the print copies of some of these dominant print publications, including Alpha Media titles. This trend will continue until the launch of a digital tender web portal, for example, especially from the government when e-governance picks up.

The digital space is going through a lot of changes, and there are a lot of opportunities that lie in bringing advertising online. Guys like Classifieds have staked a claim locally, but there’s no way of telling how the space will evolve in an app specific world. Maybe Alpha Media can consider that for disruption through a dynamic, lively and engaging portal with edible visual content?

As the app culture continues to grow at a snail pace, when the time does eventually come when it is the “in thing”, it is these pioneering companies who have taken the lead who will have invaluable knowledge on how to make it in the digital divide. Who knows? It could be Alpha Media, Zimpapers, ANZ or some new company altogether.


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