Alaroye and the survival game
At the onset of the discussion on the survival of Alaroye, the publisher of the medium is fully conscious of the problem of attrition bedevilling the indigenous language print media in Nigeria. This consciousness is manifest in the response to some of the interview questions by the representative of the publisher, who said:
Many indigenous language newspapers that started before, with and after Alaroye are dead. As of today, you can conduct your research; apart from The Punch newspaper, Alaroye is the next-highest-selling newspaper in Nigeria. We sell more copies than The Nigerian Tribune and The Guardian newspapers. Find out from vendors in Ibadan and Lagos, they will tell you that they use Alaroye to sell other English newspapers. If you want to read Alaroye, you must buy another English newspaper with it.
(Interview with publisher’s representative, 12 January' 2019)
The stiff competition is not peculiar to Nigeria. Shaker (2011) identifies that, in the US, community' newspapers battle a fierce advertising environment, increased competition and an uncertain future. Dimgba (1991) also mentions inadequate or irregular funding, low levels of professionalism and other factors as reasons for the death of community newspapers. For Oso (2003), financial outlays and an inability to operate ‘journalistic enterprises’ are responsible for their death. Interestingly, The Punch newspaper, with which the respondent compares Alaroye, is an English language publication. So, the measure of success, in a way, for an indigenous language medium is often inadvertently tied to its peers appearing in a foreign language. The awareness of success displayed by the respondent is also another point to note in the enthusiasm that drives the commitment to the growth of the publication. In a way, the feeling of good performance can be a motivation for the publisher to push ahead in trying to sustain the newspaper.
Wanyeki (2000, 35) stresses the need to study the survival and sustenance strategies that owners of community or indigenous language newspapers deploy. The researcher asks questions, such as: how are community' media initiatives sustaining themselves financially? Are there community' media initiatives that have found ways to garner public support through regulatory' mechanisms? Other questions include, how can sustainable mechanisms for financing be systematized, and does public and private support necessarily compromise the development agenda of community media initiatives? With a strong commitment to the survival of the newspaper in the face of daunting challenges, the managers of Alaroye said they put in place several strategies, as deduced from the interviewer’s interactions with both the publisher’s representative and vendors of the newspaper. One such strategy is the latching on to sensational stories of public interest to increase the volume of sales. The publisher’s representative categorically submitted that:
There were times that we printed and sold 120,000 copies when the economy was good. Usually, the stories and the situation of the country determine sales. When there is a big problem in the country, the public always wants to know what is happening and they therefore buy our newspaper to know what is happening. These days, we print 50,000 copies and sell 80-85% of the total copies printed.
(Interview with publisher’s representative, 12 January 2019)
The interviewee also indicated that, while headline stories are often geographically segmented and localized to issues of interest to the predominantly South-West audience, sensational stories cut across politics, crime, corruption and the bizarre. This approach notwithstanding, the representative of the publisher admits that there is a deliberate attempt to target Yoruba readers even beyond the South-West, where they traditionally reside. This also includes an attempt to make the newspaper reach the Yoruba in the Diaspora. This was revealed during the interview:
Alaroye has been successful because it has been meeting the purpose for which it was established, which is to reach the Yoruba people wherever they are in Nigeria. The Yoruba people are predominantly in South-West, but when you get to other parts of the country; Alaroye also thrives there. This is because there is no state in Nigeria where you don’t find Yoruba people, so when you get there, you get Alaroye. We try as much as possible to get in touch with the Yoruba outside of South-West, especially people in Cuba, Brazil and the United States of America. This has become a newspaper for the cultural, economic and political development of Yoruba.
This submission finds some relevance with the position of Terry (2011) that, ‘in order to survive, let alone prosper, a community newspaper must burrow into its community. It will be the single, defining mission ... to devise their own relevance and value ... because their survival depends on it’ (80). Alaroye seems to have understood this by focusing extensively and predominantly on an identified, single audience base, which is the Yoruba-speaking people wherever they are found. From the position of the representative of the publisher, the inability to sell as many thousands of copies printed is not a problem peculiar to indigenous
The survival game 12 7 language newspapers in Nigeria. The representative opines that there is no Nigerian newspaper today that is selling up to 100,000 copies. As stated by the representative,
we (Alaroye) print where The Punch newspaper also prints, and I can tell you, The Punch does not print 50,000 copies daily, except weekend papers (Saturday and Sunday). Alaroye prints and sells more copies to the various states than Punch does per week.
This remark shows that Alaroye has been able to compete favourably at some levels with some of the highly placed national newspapers published in English, using circulation and volume of sales as yardsticks.