Tension is building into a revolt at Standard Group, Kenya’s second-largest newspaper publisher, after the management withdrew complimentary newspaper given to staff. This turns a new page in the life of employees who had become used to the free newspaper.
In a memo to employees last week, the company’s Human Resources Director Nicholas Siwatom said from 1st October, the complimentary newspaper would be available in digital format. And that, too, won’t come at no cost: staff are required to pay Ksh30 daily subscription like other readers.
“This is to advise that as from 1st October 2019 staff will receive their complimentary newspaper from the digital platform through the ePaper,” he said.
Mr Siwatom did not explain the reason for the sudden withdrawal of the free paper, only saying the Standard digital copy (ePapaer) “has been re-launched with improved reader experience and one access to all the products.”
“We will be happy if you will share your experience and provide feedback, with a view to improving the experience that our readers will have while reading our e-products,” he said.
It was a rude shock for Standard staff on Tuesday, especially journalists when most of them missed the free copy of the paper they produce. Those who tried to access the e-paper were required to pay for it and so most of them stayed without reading.
The company is said to be giving only 20 free copies of its newspaper which will go to senior editors. “When I came in and asked for a newspaper, I was told there are only 20 and Andy Kagwa (the editorial manager) will decide who gets,” a senior reporter attached to Standard newspaper told BT on Tuesday.
The Standard has also withdrawn supply of free copies of the Daily Nation, Star and Business Daily. The free newspaper remains a lifeline for many journalists and media staff when it comes to self-assessment. As a routine, journalists and their editors review the newspaper early in the morning to assess their product and identify areas for follow-up and improvement. The paper is also assessed against competing brands.
Now Standard journalists are being forced to share the few copies available in meetings. The move comes just after People Daily also withdrew free newspapers for senior journalists and editors.
For People Daily, it was seen as a desperate way to cut costs, but for Standard it could be a measure to increase uptake of its newspaper and e-paper which, sources say, has not picked after the relaunch in August. The company circulates about 50,000 copies on weekdays, with returns as high as 40%, which makes no economic sense to deny staff.
But from a business perspective, if its staff can buy their own newspaper or subscribe to the e-paper, it can boost circulation by a few hundreds from its over 500 employees. Journalists, though, are not big fans of buying newspapers.