Friday, February 02, 2007

Why the 'quite startling' use of the Internet by SA daily newspapers?

“Yes. Perhaps, but probably not.” Is the short answer to Chicago-based Robb Montgomery’s comment on my previous post:

These measurements are quite startling. I suspect these anemic figures directly correlate to the level of broadband penetration in S.A. What can you tell us about that metric.

Yes, these figures are startling and perhaps some of it can be attributed to Internet accessibility and affordability, in general, and of broadband, in particular. Reports show that just over 10%, internet penetration in South Africa is more than three times that of the average for the continent (a little more than 3%) and about on par with the average for Asia (10%). However, it is far behind the rates in Latin America (16%), Europe (38.6) Oceania / Australia (53.5%) and North America (69.4%). [Check out for a primer on the debate in SA].

However, I suspect the lacklustre use of the Internet by the daily newspapers is not simply an issue of access: millions of people in South Africa do have Internet access and around 7 million at home and abroad access news and information sites.

And it’s not primarily an issue of money: World Bank GDP rankings put South Africa at 27th, just below Denmark (26) and above Greece (28), Ireland (29) and Iran (30) . E-tailing was reported up 30% in 2006 to R668 million (about US $98 million) and this year online advertising is expected to be worth around R200million (about US$28million).

And it’s not even an issue of awareness: at the continent’s largest annual conference for journalists, Highway Africa – which is actively supported and attended by most of the major media groups - the Internet has officially been on the local industry’s agenda for more than a decade.

It's not simply an issue of capacity: in 1994, the Mail & Guardian was one of the first newspapers in the world to go online.

It is, I would argue, down to leadership. In that, South African newspaper editors have much in common with their colleagues in the UK (the group with which I have the most interaction) and elsewhere (I suspect) : they've been happy to be seen to be on the web, but are not part of the web. With that they've been happy to let the techies do their thing somewhere else, but not nearly as eager to integrate operations. For example, the two of the largest media houses in SA have built pretty successful 'shovelware' news portals - & - which operate independently.

But there is evidence of some new thinking, as I've noted before and of which Johnnic Communication's Ohmynews-like site,, is a further example: The company's hugely profitable Sunday Times newspaper has also recently re-launched its website and have include interactivity which should help build a daily (rather than just weekly) dialogue with their users. Not a bad idea, especially given rumours that they're planning to spin off a daily print paper sometime soon.

Robb, also asked: "Who has it and who doesn't?". Any ideas?

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