The traffic light just turned red as I drove to work on a typical busy Lagos morning wondering if I had enough time to make it to work early for a 9am meeting. Fun weekends are very enthralling but they come to with pitfalls some of which are early morning hang overs resulting in over sleeps. A flash of guy in lovely black tuxedo and white shirt shook off my day-dream as I leaned closer my window to catch a glimpse of the dude in a fashion magazine. It was one of those Nigerian mags you get to see once every quarter or biannual depending on the publishers pocket.
I am not one to buy Nigerian magazines for obvious reasons which I would get to later but this one had my attention. I beckoned the street vendor to get a better look and immediately asked him how much it was. N1,000?? I exclaimed irritatingly only for him to reply “Na latest”. Seeing that my interest was waning he dangled a few more magazines and books in front of me one of which was Forbes Africa. Ironically, Forbes Africa was selling for just N900 and so was Time Magazine and a host of other foreign ones he had with him.
Contrast this to Nigerian magazines (names withheld) and well what you get is at the least the same price or even pricier. Nigerian magazines range from N500 to N3000 depending on what the magazine is all about. Unlike their foreign counterparts they hardly are over 100 pages and are of inferior quality. GQ Uk (Fashion mag) for example has over 260 pages, Forbes (Business Mag) 100 pages. Local Mags also have a dour odour which by some annoying precedence is in about any Nigerian mag you come across. Their articles are also inferior and lack ground breaking stories (except for political mags). Considering their counterparts and the local economy Nigerian mags should not be more than 500 bucks in my opinion (and that’s for the more expensive monthly Fashion mags). So Just why are local Nigerian magazines costlier?
A publisher once told me his N500 a copy 80 page magazine was that expensive because printing is equally expensive in Nigeria. He also explains that unlike foreign mags, they don’t get to print many copies and that the most read magazine probably publishes about 10,000 copies per issue. He also complains that adverts are hard to come by and despite that some magazines end up running free advertorial for months before even earning a dime from adverts. All of this he says culminates into the expensive nature of Nigerian Mags.
Why then do people bother publishing then? If your readership is just 10,000 out of 150million Nigerians and you can’t even earn a decent income from ads why then do you bother anyway. 10,000 copies sold at N1,000 per copy is about N10million (that’s if they even sell that much) may seem like a lot of money. However, if you consider that you still have to deduct the cost of production, distribution, salaries, taxes etc then that amount may not seem that much after all. Since most magazine publications are privately owned it is very difficult to know if they really break-even let alone make profit from the business.
So I asked my friend why then does everyone want to own a Nigerian Magazine? “It’s not about selling the magazines” he says. “The magazine is just a way for you to be known and relevant. It gives you a voice and draws influential people to you”. The real money is made when you have your own award shows and red carpet events.” Oh well..so that’s it then. Nigerian magazines are just another “rent seeking” business model we see every now and then. You meet wealthy politicians and influential people in society. Being a Publisher achieves that even if it means owing staff salaries and hardly paying your bills.
It’s no wonder they couldn’t care much about the price of their magazines or how many copies they sold (they also give out many complimentary copies) provided it’s out there representing the publishers wishes. That’s the metric here. The economics of the business is not about selling copies so unit price don’t necessarily matter. I am in no way suggesting all publishers use this model but surely most of them do for me to generalise.
The light soon turned green and I sped off to my destination leaving the vendor in his tracks. I wasn’t parting with any of my cash.