Newspapers under pressure as costs rise

AMH managing director Kennias Mafukidze

By Staff Reporter

Zimbabwe’s newspaper industry is under immense pressure to sustain operations in the wake of rising costs as the country’s economy continues to degenerate.

The country has a fairly vibrant newspaper industry which provides for a plurality of voices and opinions.

According to top players in the sector, the industry’s major cost drivers are newsprint, ink and printing press spares, all of which are mostly imported at a time the country is facing a severe shortage of foreign currency.

Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) managing director Kenias Mafukidze said it was becoming increasingly difficult to contain the rising costs.

“Post-dollarisation, the cost of a daily was pegged at US$1. Just following this logic, the price of a daily should then be around ZWL$5. It is also interesting to observe that historically, the price of a daily paper equates to about the price of bread. Currently, bread is selling at about ZWL$3,50, while the papers are around ZWL$2, reflecting that the industry has been somehow absorbing the rising costs,” he said.

AMH is Zimbabwe’s largest privately-owned media house. It publishes NewsDay, The Standard and the Zimbabwe Independent.

“As costs continue to rise, we naturally have to become more creative in reducing costs through higher efficiencies. As an example, the prices of newsprint and fuel have gone up more than five times in tandem with the exchange rate. Unfortunately, we will not be able to entirely absorb these costs without compromising viability of the industry. As the exchange rate continues to weaken, we will also have to share the costs with our clients to pick up some of the costs so that the community continues to be able to receive news.”

Commenting on the matter, Zimpapers chief executive Pikirayi Deketeke said the situation was very fluid, adding that the future of newspapers was precarious.

“We increased (our cover prices) in January because all the newsprint is imported and there was very little currency on the market. So we were going to alternative markets for newsprint or local suppliers, who would then price their newsprint using parallel market prices. So it became very expensive to run the business on newsprint that was being supplied by middlemen.
So we needed to cover that with an increase in our prices,” he said.

“But, as it stands now, the situation is getting worse because the interbank and parallel market rates have really shot up and to be able to cover the business on the basis of newsprint, it becomes very difficult.

“We do not have a choice because we still have to continue producing newspapers and see how we militate against costs and the cost of labour is also going up, so it becomes a very expensive business to run.”

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