After a long stay outside the country, I landed in Kenya to settle. That was in early 2007. My first stop was the bookshops and magazine stalls. I wanted to see a sample of what life would be. My happiness is directly proportion to the variety of reading materials available in any given city. I was not optimistic. There were about four local newspapers, The Nation and The Standard, an East African Standard, Taifa Leo in Swahili and a few magazines that I could count on one hand. Life in Nairobi promised to be boring.
I may have spoken too soon. Since 2007 until today, roughly six years, something amazing has taken place. A boom in the publishing industry. Books, newspapers and magazines are being churned out faster than I can read their titles. In those 6 years, several dailies have emerged: The People, The Star, County Editions, the Business Daily, the Financial Post, a new version of an East African Weekly. Inside these dailies are themed magazines. Suddenly, I can’t keep up.
On the magazine stalls, there’s more than the previously ubiquitous Parents magazine. This magazine is still strong and is now glossy. Name any sector: Business, Marketing, Food, Travel, Health, and for each, you will find two or three local publications and their foreign equivalents. An avid consumer of content, in particular the written word, would not deny that something exciting is happening. More competition is leading to more segmentation which in turns leads to more creativity. And more jobs.
The latest stars in the publishing world are the free magazines. Don’t we love them? Who would’ve thought that a glossy, colour magazine can be distributed free of charge? Today, no restaurant worth its salt does not have its own magazine. Same applies to corporates, malls and supermarkets. And I’m not talking about newsletters. Calling them newsletters would be a serious underestimation. Don’t get me talking about books, that’s a story for another day.
As mentioned earlier, in theory, increased competition should lead to more segmentation and then to improved creativity. This is not always the case. And that is why, over the years, some publications have not survived. Just like in every industry, only the fittest will survive. I’ve been forced to eat a huge slice of humble pie after predicting that 2 particular magazines would not survive. They started out with too many images, no words and general poor quality. But a recent look at the same two surprised me. They have better images, more content and have been able to attract better cover models. Which goes to show that anything you do for a long time can only improve. And the industry as a whole will continue to improve as more people write.
Still, more needs to be done in getting people to read. It is not enough to put books and magazines on the shelves. No condom company puts its wares on a shelf and then waits for customers. The company will go to the mountain top and shout and soon your kids will be repeating their slogans. And so publishers, what’s stopping you from blowing your own trumpets?