American newspaper publishers ought to scrap the focus groups and visit Kenya, where newspapers are an obsession.
“Each newspaper in Kenya is typically read by 14 people, and those who can’t afford to buy a paper sometimes ‘rent’ one,” writes Karen Rothmyer, a journalism instructor at the University of Nairobi, in the Columbia Journalism Review (Jan.-Feb. 2010). News-obsessed Kenyans can buy 30 minutes with one of the major dailies for the equivalent of 13 cents at their neighborhood newsstands. “That compares with 50 cents to buy one,” Rothmyer writes, “a significant sum even to office workers earning $20 a day.”
Limited Internet access in the country is a factor in the enduring popularity of newspapers, but there is also a communal factor at play. Rothmyer sees this firsthand when she travels to the small rural town of Busia, where she observes a daily gathering of farmers, taxi drivers, and small-business owners debating current events over a pile of newspapers.
“Newspapers will not die here, definitely not,” says a 28-year-old who is among the small number of Kenyans who own a mobile phone with Internet access (he uses it to follow international headlines). “I’ll still be reading newspapers in 20 years,” he insists.