THE VIBRANCY OF NIGERIA NEWSPAPER INDUSTRY:
WHY NEWSPAPER BUSINESS STILL BOOMS EVEN WITH LOW AUDIENCE
READERSHIP AND SUBSCRIPTION
By Austen Uche Uwosomah
Student no: 6156464
Course Title: Media Systems in an International Comparative Perspective
Instructor: Prof. Dr. Kleinsteuber, Hans
Erasmus Mundus Master
Journalism and Media within Globalization – The European Perspective
University of Hamburg
Date: 30 March 2010
All over the world today, were newspaper is produced for mass communication and journalism,
studies have suggested there is glaring dearth in production due to decline in readership. People are
no loner reading newspaper hardcopies as much as before in this
present age of ICT enhanced mass communication. ICTs like the cell phones and Internet which
favour online newspapers, Blogs, Weblogs, Web 2.0, have overtaken journalism practices of
mainstream print media. Mainstream newspapers have been complimented and almost replaced by
online alternatives. Stakeholders and workers involved in mainstream newspaper production are no
longer very optimistic about the future of the industry. As a consequence newspaper business is
described to be less vibrant in most countries of the world.
However, this is not the case in Nigeria where newspaper business still booms even with low
readership and subscription. This boom is despite copies are not sold on large volume and that
newspaper readership and subscription rates are low. I find this a very unique thing in Nigeria media
terrain because empirical studies have shown that mainstream newspaper production in most part of
the world is in decline due to drop in readership particularly in countries where newspaper had gone
online because an Internet service is affordable to the citizens. Notwithstanding, in Nigeria,
newspapers are still produced and distributed widely in the country. One wonders why this so when
readership and subscription is at low gear.
Why are newspapers in Nigeria booming in production despite that they are not read by a wide
population? To whom are the newspaper distributed to? If many people do not buy or read
newspapers, how does the newspaper companies n Nigeria realize profit to plough back for continual
production? The foregoing questions will be answered in this paper so that I can present an
explanation why there is still vibrancy in production and distribution of newspaper hardcopies in
Nigeria whilst many other countries may be experiencing decline in production and distribution.
Nigeria Media System
Generally speaking, the type of media system present in Nigeria is a combination of the authoritarian
and libertarian models as described by Seibert et al (1963). The two models combine because whilst
there ample liberty of expression is allowed in print media, Nigeria authorities still exercise much
control over the broadcast media. So in Nigeria, the authoritarian and libertarian media practices go
neck-in-neck to portray Nigeria’s erratic democracy. As a large country that stands out in population
and geographical landscape of about 154.7 million and an estimated landmass of about 356,669 sq
km (UN, 2009), Nigeria is found in the West African region of Africa. Overall, there are over 244
ethnic groups and very many differed vernaculars spoken by the various ethnic groups. Nigeria has
36 states and a federal capital territory in the country (Uche,1989).
The literacy rate in the country is about 57.1% (UN, 2009) of the population. The official lingual
Franca is English but the country has three major mother languages and an informal lingual vis-à-vis
Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo and Pidgin English. However, the mass media provides content to audiences in
English. Historically, Nigeria media system dates back to the British colonial days when Nigeria was
under the colonial administration of Great Britain. It is worthy of note that the christening of the
country was devised by Flora Shaw (1948), a British reporter that was always referring to the
country as “a British territory around the Niger area” because the Niger River flows across the
country. Later, the name ‘Nigeria’ was coined by the British colonist regime to apply to the country.
Of all the available media in Nigeria, radio is the pioneer form of media practice in the country. It
was started by the British colonial regime. Radio broadcasting is the most popularly distributed
media in the country. This is followed by TV and then newspaper with magazines at the rear.
Nigeria has one of the most proliferations of State-run radio and TV media services in West Africa.
This is because all 36 states including the federal capital territory run their own respective FM radio
stations and TV service. Radio is the most affordable media for the citizens. However, due to
epileptic electricity supply, electronic broadcasting is not continually available to many Nigerians.
Due to the volatile nature of Nigerian politics there is no predictability in the way laws granting free
speech will be interpreted at any given time. Broadcasters are vulnerable in such a climate.
Legislation requires that locally-made material must comprise 60% of output. International
broadcasters (TV only available via cable subscription), are present but viewing is concentrated in
Rebroadcasts of foreign radio stations were banned in 2004. There are limited Private TV stations
and mostly seen via cable subscription and the cost is far from affordable to the average TV owner.
There were two government controlled television broadcast stations in Nigeria in 1999 and 14
licenses to operate private television stations. The nation had 82 AM radio stations and 35 FM
stations. There are 11 short-wave stations in Nigeria. Throughout the country there are 23.5 million
radios and 6.9 million television sets. In 1992 the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) was
founded to monitor and regulate broadcasting Nigeria on a national basis. One goal of the
organization is to open up the industry to the marketplace paradigm. Both foreign and domestic
participation is sought. The NBC agency has the role of arbitrator between the industry and other
areas of the government. Education is also a component of the organization's work. It is charged
with ensuring the development of trained personnel through accredited curricula and programs that
offer courses in mass communication and broadcasting. And the final mandate is to guarantee the
liberty and protection of the broadcasting industry under the constitution (This is NBC, 2002).
Broadcast Media in Nigeria
There is a conglomeration of government owned broadcasting radio and TV stations both at federal
and state levels with emphasis on government and public service content. There are also privately
owned regional FM radio stations distributing to a few strong commercial cities in the country. Some
strong private cable TV stations exist in several states across the country. Regrettably, broadcast
reach is hampered by frequent power outages and challenges of infrastructure. The presence of cable
TV offers better packaged entertainment and news content to audience via subscription. Cable TV is
a strong force that draws a good percentage of the up-market audience away from local television.
Nonetheless, radio has a very strong channel across the entire country with the best rate of
penetration to semi urban and rural communities. Radio reach cuts across all audience targets, but
for frequent power outage, radio would have been the most used media in the country.
This is because even though high population of citizens has at least a radio at home or at work, but
there is often too many power cuts from the electricity supply company. This is a major setback for
the broadcast media in Nigeria as all broadcasting media must depend more on alternative power
generating set to continually remain on air. And this is very capital intensive. It is because of this
high cost of running broadcast media that makes private ownership minimal in the country. As a
result, the government of Nigeria both at state and national levels, have greater ownership of radio
and TV service in the country. One major federal government owned national radio with emphasis
on government and public service content is the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN). This
corporation has radio stations that transmit a nation wide radio service on medium wave frequency.
The corporation also has several FM radio stations in some major cities of Nigeria to compliment the
FM stations owned by states government in all of the 36 states in the country.
Internet Media in Nigeria
Although Nigerians are active Internet users but new media technology is still not very much
available in its fullest. Internet access is still at the toddler stage. 70% of Internet surfing is done at
public cafes.ISP providers are few because of high cost of alternative power supply. Only about
eleven Internet Service Providers (ISPs) operate in the nation (Uche, 1989). An estimated 100,000
Nigerians are Internet users. Numerous media Nigeria outlets are available on the Internet. These
include specialty media, designed for target audiences to general interest publications. An example
of international media outlets providing news analysis on Nigeria's political situation can be found
on the websites of BBC and CNN. Nigeria media has not fully being represented online though there
is a hand full of mainstream media on the Net.
This reason is obviously because of epileptic electricity supply prevalent in the country. However,
some Nigerians in Diaspora use Weblogs and Blogs to x-ray Nigeria in the global cynosure. An
example is allnigeria.com, which is an Internet source for a broader audience. It contains daily news
updates, viewpoints, feature articles and essays on Nigeria, Africa and the world at large from a
Nigerian perspective. This online site has columnists and editorial writers based in the United States
and Europe. Many of these people write about Nigeria from Diaspora. Nonetheless, some Nigerian
newspapers have created online versions of their tabloids, however, readership online is still minimal
among Nigerians. The online newspapers are daily updated to serve more of the readership of
Nigerians in Diaspora. Generally, Blogging and citizen journalism within Nigeria is consequently
Print Media of Nigeria
According to Park (1993:1), Nigeria has the biggest and most virile press community in Africa
followed by South Africa, Kenya and Ghana. The Guardian newspaper is a significant national daily
of Nigeria under private ownership. The other most admired dailies of Nigeria are the Vanguard and
Daily Sun. The two most important government-owned newspapers in Nigeria are the Daily Times
and The New Nigerian. There are other significant national and regional tabloids operating in the
country. In 2008, the number of publications vis-à-vis daily and weekly tabloids and magazines were
estimated at 116. However, the number has since gone up to date. Although a number of the
newspapers fizzle out of newsstand and cease to circulate without notice or are at the margins of
survival, but new ones come out as well without notice (Ogbodu, 2008:12). Nigeria has witnessed a
mushrooming of sorts in the newspaper industry with a litany of titles. As a lot of titles had fizzled
out of circulation, so do new ones cropped into circulation. So newspaper business in Nigeria has
remained vibrant from time immemorial without recourse to diminishing number of available copies
on the newsstand.
Apparently mainstream print media industry in Nigeria is one venture of business that does not
depend solely on electricity for production and distribution. This is coupled with the fact that there is
less restriction from government on the prerequisite for starting a newspaper. So as political
competition heats up in the country either during or after elections, voices come up in different
tabloids to challenge, redress or to oppose certain matters arising from the perspectives of the
differed interest groups that publish them (Dare 2000). The combined circulation of all newspapers
barely reaches half a million, in the country of close to 140 million people (Bankole 1995; Olukotun
1996). One reason why newspaper became increasingly assertive in production and distribution is
that it tries to compete favourably with the broadcasting media where there are state owned
television and radio stations in all states of the country and only a handful of privately owned
television and radio stations (Bankole 1995; Olukotun 1996).
Like other media of society, newspapers in Nigeria reflect the population of the people. Nigeria’s
different ethnic groups are diverse. The country is one of the most densely populated countries in
Africa. Against this backdrop, tribalism is so sensitive an issue to the population. This problem was
created by the British colonialist administration when they amalgamated the differed tribes and ethic
socio-religious people they found around the River Niger area into one country. While they were
able to control the different people during the colonial era, but upon attainment of independence, the
quest for supremacy of tribe had always been a fundamental problem for Nigerians. The country has
had varying degrees of regional socio-ethnic media wars since after independence and it is with
newspapers and magazines that such media wars were fought. Over its tumultuous history, Nigeria
has generally been a diversity of voices in the media; however, as the government changed hands
frequently and in violent circumstances, the media voices that were in support of a leader would find
themselves without a voice as a replacement emerged. At some points, newspapers and magazines
were proscribed entirely due to their criticism of government authorities. Privately owned
newspapers and magazines were prohibited by the government from expressing anti-government
Newspapers in Nigeria
From time immemorial and even until today, newspaper industry in Nigeria has been very vibrant.
This is because it is the only chief means of opposition to government. Therefore, Nigeria has one of
the most pulsating newspaper media systems in Africa with well over 200 national and local
newspapers and publications. The Nigerian newspapers include esteemed dailies, well-liked tabloids
and periodicals that defend the welfare of ethnic groups in Nigeria. Some of the newspapers are
owned by the state government or political parties. The Nigerian tabloids enjoy considerable liberty
of free speech and fair comment. The active private press time and again criticizes the government
of Nigeria on various issues. Most newspapers are owned for political reasons. Close to a dozen key
newspapers offering good national coverage with regional flavour and specialised content are
circulated in wide reach in Nigeria. However, reach and appeal are hampered by relatively low
literacy levels and disposable income (Park, 1995).
Nigerian newspaper media has also been vociferous in their coverage during political crisis. Media
freedom in Nigeria had perked up since the inception of democratic regime in 1999. However,
restraining orders continue to oblige the newspaper media system in Nigeria to some extent.
Notwithstanding that press freedom is observed, but restrictive decrees adopted during military era
still remain. For instance, the decree that empowers security agents to arrest and detain media
persons who publish information that brings the federal government of Nigeria to disrepute is still
enforceable to date. Journalists and reporters still suffer unfair police raids and arrests; they also face
political and socio religious assaults and assassinations. This oppression is mostly suffered by the
private press practitioners in Nigeria.
Nonetheless, the Nigerian newspaper media has strong private ownership with no government
influence/interference. Why the business of newspapers is vibrant in the county is because the
industry is porous and left to all comers who have the wherewithal to float a publishing company.
This is with recourse to why so many private newspapers are published to cover mere stories on
public officers inaugurating projects and governors' wives promoting their pet projects instead of
stories with core news value such as local issues, politics, major events and celebrations, lifestyle of
the Nigerian People and business news of Nigeria.
Although the press was intended to be a watchdog for the country, similar to its role in free
countries, it has had difficulty fulfilling that role due to the demands of the various competing
interest groups. The large number of different voices created something of a marketplace of
contentious ideas although some of the ideas resulted in controversies and sometimes culminating
into war between newspaper publishers. And the readers have to read about the battle of words in the
tabloids. However, just because this newspaper media is available in the country does not necessarily
mean large number of people is reached with its content (Oseni, 1995). In spite of the relatively large
number of newspapers circulated in the country, only about 48% of the totality of the newspapers is
sold. Nearly 52% are returned as unsold copies and are either sold to companies that recycle them
for tissue paper production or to petty trader that use them for wrapping their trade articles. Going by
the foregoing, it follows that Nigeria newspapers industry tend to be vibrant in production despite
low audience readership and subscription patronage.
How Nigeria Newspapers Survive Economically
In a qualitative study on Nigerian newspaper vendors on the declining newspaper readership among
readers, a former chairman of the Vendors Association in Nigeria, Mr. Ajinimoh Gabriel,
complained that thousands of copies of newspapers and magazines were not sold daily. He blames
the economic problems of poverty in the country for this. He acknowledges the fact that only few
people among the elites, usually bank executives, teachers, senior civil servants and some other well-
to-do in the society buy newspapers and magazines for record purposes (see Ogbodu, 2006: 71-90). In
similar vein, another vendor Elisha Akanle, noted that sales and readership of newspapers and
magazines have dropped by 50 per cent among these same categories of readers as a result of the
circulation of publications online. The people hit hard by the development are the newspaper
vendors as there is lower patronage even among the elite with 50% drop to the detriment of the profit
incentive of vendors. Consequently, the rate at which tabloids are published and distributed in high
volumes in the country is not because there is a large mass of readers or because there is a large
number of subscribers. So why is the phenomenon of vibrant production of tabloids in the country
still prevalent with the publishers?
The industry is thus characterized by tendencies of depending more on other means of funding
production as funds derived from sales are not commensurate with what is needed to sustain the
business continuity. The production of newspapers in Nigeria is not solely for profit motive. In part
it is done to give voice to the various interests and political groups that are not favored to be in
power. Given that the broadcast media of radio and TV are run by the ruling government in power,
and running private broadcast media is hugely capital intensive, the veritable media for co-existing
and competing with the government media is the newspapers. Many newspapers are thus set up by
interest groups either to propagate their interests or to serve as opposing voice to government.
Against this backdrop the rationale for setting up print media in the country is therefore to serve the
interest of the publishers rather of the public. For this reason the universal newspaper concept which
stipulates that the newspaper be used to serve public interest and for journalistic functions is not
upheld in Nigeria. The presences of many newspapers in Nigeria reflect on the one hand that there is
ample democratization of the print media industry and on the other hand that freedom of expression
is exercised by the print media. The private press is porous and lively and often too critical of the
government. The state press does more of public relations for their owners. Newspapers are not
widely bought and read though distributed on large scale. Publishers depend on money from,
benefactors, advertisers and sale of unsold copies.
In a normal perfect competitive media market terrain, newspaper would have depended on revenue
from sales and subscription on hardcopies. In Nigeria newspaper companies do not depend on sale of
copies to keep the business afloat. They get a lot of funding from their proprietors, patrons, and
advertisers. Although copies are distributed on mass scale only about 48% of produced copies are
sold. The remaining 52% are retuned to the companies that in turn resell hem as recycle materials for
tissue paper making manufactures and to other buyers who have use for them. As a matter of fact
some newspaper company estimate their net sale by including proceeds expected from resale of
unsold copies. For this reason the continual funding of newspapers is ensured to a great extent
regardless of whether the copies are sold or not sold.
Newspaper business in Nigeria is thus not dependant on sale of copies as it should be in a normal
perfect competitive print media market. The fact that there are so many different newspapers
available in vendors’ stands gives evidential display of the vibrancy in production of tabloids in the
country. Moreover, considering that free newspapers like the free tabloids (such as ‘metro’
newspapers) that are circulated in public places in European countries are not present in Nigeria
shows that Nigeria newspapers are essentially produced to be sold and not for free distribution. In
similar vein, in other countries there are newspapers that are sponsored by advertisement revenue
and so distributed freely in public places. Such newspapers are not found in Nigeria. Although there
is ample patronage from advertisers in most newspapers due to large volume of advertisements and
advertorials on pages of newspapers, the newspapers are still circulated with cover prices. This is
likely because publishers still expect to derive monetary benefits from the sale even though they do
not solely depend on sale of copies for the sustenance of the business. The newspapers’ publishers
in Nigeria hence depend on deriving funding from all other sources mentioned with a small margin
on sale of copies.
The glaring implication of this is that Nigeria newspapers are produced more for the interests of the
sponsors and benefactors rather than for readers. Considering that a large sector of population in the
country do not read newspapers and so do not buy, perhaps newspaper publishers are left with the
option of raising funding via other means to keep their production afloat as the best alternative. As a
consequence, media content in newspapers are generated and slanted to support the ownership wimp
and caprices or to denounce opponents’ ideals and not to the general interest of the entire Nigerians.
Against this backdrop, we do not only see news stories in Nigerian media, we see often the battles of
ideals, ideas and clashes of interests fought by those who sponsor the media (Soyinka, 1996).
No gain saying that the foregoing attribute on Nigeria newspaper production practice regardless of
whether it makes the newspaper production to be vibrant is laudable. This essay is written to laud the
vibrancy but to x-ray why newspaper business in Nigeria still booms even with low audience
readership and subscription. As revealed the vibrancy is due to dependence for funding from
extramural sources other than from sale of copies as it should have been in a perfect competitive
print media market. The readers of newspapers are fewer than those that do not read and it is
recorded that readership is further on decline. All the same, production of newspapers still booms. In
my opinion I will say newspaper production in the Nigeria is more like show business for the
publishers and this is why the business will still continue to boom in Nigeria media terrain even
though the volume of newspaper readers declines further. For fact that publishers do not depend on
readers’ purchase to sustain the industry, I think newspapers will still be produced and distributed
widely in the country for a long time to come even when readership and subscription is at low ebb.
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