OPEN LETTER: A message from the publisher, as NET goes out of print

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Today, I confirm what many have suspected: the weekly print edition of Nigerian Entertainment Today will no longer be available.

Yes, we are stopping the 16-page newspaper we debuted on April 22, 2010 after 216 editions.

I’m a print man. I worked for newspapers and magazines, gathering bylines from Hip-Hop World Magazine (now also out of print) to Encomium, The Guardian, THISDAY, The Africa Report, The Punch and more. I love the look and smell of print. I’m still a regular collector of the FT, WSJ and The Times.

Sadly, there’s a narrow future for the print business all over the world.  The situation here in Nigeria is made more scary, because of poor distribution infrastructure, media agencies’ chronic debts, and increasing availability of a faster alternative: everyone now can potentially access news on the go, on their phones or laptops.

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In January 2014, disturbed by the circulation and advertising trend I’ve monitored over the past two years, I asked our editorial board for permission to shut down the newspaper and focus on our digital assets (at the time, we only owned thenet.ng). The board convinced me it didn’t make sense to stop.

Part of our differentiation, they unanimously argued, was that we had a popular and credible print asset. People don’t see us as a blog. We can compete with the Big 5. We can attract partnerships and advertising. We can embrace training and conferences and classifieds.

We already started Nigeria Entertainment Conference (NECLive) in 2013 to resounding success. I was convinced our investments should lie in such properties, and other digital assets, not in a weekly paper that’s clearly not scalable.

On August 5, 2015 I wrote the board again, hoping to start another conversation about shutting down the weekly print newspaper.  Advertising revenue was nothing to write home about, agencies were owing for up to two years, sales revenue continued to dwindle, even after we doubled cover price. The paper was everywhere. But the figures didn’t look good.

SOLILOQUY: What are we selling?

Nearly everyone wrote back, agreeing it was time to nail the coffin.

Before my August pitch, we had already launched our human-interest site newsroom.ng, we had been test running our music site orin.ng for four months, we had seen our lifestyle platform star.ng off to a good start. Our TV platform, which launched in March had already pushed out 1000 videos and recorded over 2 million views on Youtube and Facebook.

The team didn’t need any further convincing that our model needed this adjustment; that the future of our business can be guaranteed only by our investment in visual content, better story telling and a pool of digital assets that can meet the needs of those we care about.

How do they want the content? Why do they want it? Where do they want it? When? What exactly do they want?

I was a young boy around 1996-1997 when I first dreamt of publishing a newspaper.  When in 2005 I started shopping for financiers to start an entertainment newspaper, my belief was that it’s possible to do a very good paper Nigerians cannot do without. A paper that will reach millions daily and redefine what people consider entertainment or celebrity journalism.

Shame we did not come close to doing a daily, not to talk of having a paper that reached millions.

On the best days, we had circulation reaching 7,000 to 10,000. Most weeks, we could barely sell 3,000 copies.

Meanwhile, our website thenet.ng continued to show promise, despite a 2013 hacking and eventual domain loss that set us back remarkably.  Our visitors (especially returning ones) and pageviews have quadrupled over the past year alone. Through our website and social assets (FB, IG and Twitter) we were reaching more people daily than the paper could in 10 editions. Six month figures for April – September 2015 shows thenet.ng reached over 50 million users on the website, FB, IG, Youtube and Twitter.

Then someone told me: Perhaps it’s time you redefine ‘newspaper’ and take it that your dream of having a medium that’ll reach millions of Nigerians daily is already being accomplished?

Then the truth hit me. Although in the past year alone, the likes of The News, PM News, Entertainment Express, Sunday Express, Y!, and more have gone off print, most of them continue to have heavy influence online. The Express titles and PM News in particular have shown, with the rapid growth of their websites, that it was a wise, although late decision to shed off excess weight.

At a time when journalists are no longer influencing readers the way bloggers are, when there are over 70 million Nigerians on the internet and over 18 million of them actively using FB, Twitter and IG combined; when the language of news has moved from just text, to include memes, audio visuals, skits, info graphics, GIFs, and all, the right thing for newspapers to do is to understand that today’s newspapers and magazines are no longer being read in news print. They are being consumed on mobile phones, on tablets, and on computers. Being ‘read’ on screens by an involved generation that wants to, according to The Economist, curate, create, and consume.

This understanding (and of course, that of the board) is why we have focused all investments this year on assets like Newsroom, Orin, Star, and thenet.ng. It’s why we are looking into television and biographies and e-commerce. It is why we no longer call ourselves a newspaper company.

To be sure: we will continue to dabble into print, as you’ve seen with the NET Book Series. There’ll be occasional special publications, for example, our Encyclopedia of Nigerian Entertainment, which is already in the works.

Also good to note, that we’re not downsizing. In fact we are currently looking for a news editor, a comedy writer, cartoonist and a couple of developers.

The future looks good, interesting, in many ways you can’t imagine.

May we live in interesting times!

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