Difficult economic times have decreased the purchasing power of consumers in Cameroon, posing a direct challenge to newspapers that circulate throughout the country. Amidst these challenges, one entrepreneur has seen an opportunity: introducing a free newspaper into the market. RAP 21 spoke with Pierre Jules Njawe, the publisher of “Message d’Afrique”, the country’s first general interest newspaper to hit the streets free of charge.
RAP 21: Why did you decide to launch a free newspaper?
Njawe: In Cameroon the economic situation is declining day by day. A newspaper costs 300cfa (approx US$0.54) and the daily income person is less than 800cfa (approx US$1.50) so readers cannot afford to buy newspapers on a daily basis to keep informed. In addition, Cameroonians have a weakness for anything that is free because it doesn’t require them spending anything. I said to myself, why not produce a newspaper to appeal to potential readers who cannot, or are not willing to not pay for news. I’ve tried to adapt a product to the current environment and to the needs of potential readers.
RAP 21: How long did you plan for the launch the newspaper?
Njawe: For some time I studied the character of the information market in general, and the environment in which the Cameroonian press was evolving. It took quite some time to launch the newspaper, primarily as I was still student for some of the planning process. The actual launch of the newspaper took six months, and the first edition of “Message d’Afrique” appeared in December 2005.
RAP 21: How do you distribute the newspaper?
Njawe: We distribute the newspaper in all public places – restaurants, hotels, department stores and markets. We have people who hand out the newspaper all over. Distribution is crucial for a free newspaper, so I will continue to develop this with my partners.
RAP 21: What is your strategy for attracting advertisers?
Njawe: The rate of newspaper sales is decreasing in Cameroon, which means advertisers are also losing interest because they are not sure their they will reach their target audience. Therefore my strategy for attracting advertising is simple: make them understand that in using my newspaper they will reach their target audiences wherever they may be.
RAP 21: What has been the reaction of advertisers to the newspaper?
Njawe: Our main advertisers have been pleased so far, but it will take some time to build both loyalty among both readers and advertisers. I’m counting on attracting more advertising from sectors that are targeting mass consumers, such as the telecoms industry and food producers. But in addition to the larger industries, I want to attract the smaller merchants selling particular goods or who would like to promote their activities.
RAP 21: Are you the first free publication in Cameroon?
Njawe: I am not the first free newspaper on the market in Cameroon, but “Message d’Afrique” is the first to offer general content. The others free publications out there are dedicated mostly to classified ads or advertisements.
RAP 21: How has the public reacted to “Message d’Afrique”?
Njawe: The initial reaction of the public has been very positive. However time will only tell if this initial interest develops into long-term readership. We’ll do our best to get the public hooked. As of yet, I have not yet carried out any promotional campaigns, but when the moment comes we’ll talk!
RAP 21: What has been the greatest challenge so far?
Njawe: The most difficult aspect of launching “Message d’Afrique” was initially attracting advertisers. With the difficult economic situation in Cameroon, this is always going to be a challenge. Printing has also been problematic. If you don’t have money up front, you can’t print – which is a challenge when you are just starting out.
RAP 21: What advice would you give for those wanting to launch a similar type of publication?
Njawe: The advice I would give is to know your market – study it well in advance. You must also must absolutely plan your budget for a minimum of one year. Finally, you have to believe in your project!
We are currently a monthly publication but our goal is to increase to bi-weekly or even weekly. It will take some time to get there, but I am confident that we will!
More on “Message d’Afrique”
Average distribution of the newspaper is 15,000 copies per issue. The number of pages varies depending on the number of pages of advertising. Thus far, issues have fluctuated between 8 and 16 pages. The newspaper employs three editorial staff.