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How E-newspapers are slowly erasing the art of newspaper vending

Whereas many people have a lot of positive things to write home about the advent of speedy internet and the rise of social media, the same cannot be said about newspaper vendors.

The wide popularization of E-papers and the availability of publications online appears to be the new concept that is slowly but surely eating lunch meant for newspaper vendors.

In Nyeri reading newspapers online has become so common and the newspaper vendors are an unhappy lot. Many of them are now lamenting about the hard times they are facing due to declining sales of their art which dates as far back as the 1800s.

Johnson Nderitu who has been in the business for more than 25 years, said that he reminisces on the days that selling newspapers was a real business where he could sell 100 newspapers copies in a day.

Nderitu also attributed the plummeting hardcopy sales to the rise of ageing staff in most offices in Nyeri, who prefer getting information online. He cites an example of how his current orders are from older people between the ages of 45 and 60 who majorly occupy senior positions in most offices.

“Due to technology and digitization of newspapers, citizen journalism and free news websites, the sale of newspapers has declined making it difficult to even sell 30 newspapers a day unless there is a juicy story. This new media is not all bad, however it is affecting me economically because I cannot meet my family’s needs and I am too old to get a better paying job,” said the 73 year-old.

Daniel Ndegwa, another vendor, said that even his prominent customers who traditionally booked the paper in advance no longer do the same since they can now access the whole story online.

“I used to sell 50 newspapers and I had orders for over 30 newspapers daily which I used to deliver to homes or offices. Currently, I only sell about 20 papers at most and have less than eight orders for personal delivery. My customers now just call me to discontinue my delivery services since they can now access these newspapers on their smartphones,” he lamented.

He added that for the last 15 years he has been selling newspapers, he has never seen a bigger threat to his business until now, that he had to set up a side business to complement his income.

His story and that of his counterpart Kelvin Mutua are the same as both of them say that the rains started beating them during the Covid-19 pandemic when their customers started embracing technology.

“The pandemic is what caused the low sales as people stopped buying the physical newspaper copies. Today, I hardly sell more than five copies in a day compared to 2018 where I used to sell over 15 newspapers. I can no longer depend on this sole business, I had to set up a shop as another source of income,” explained Mutua.

Although most of these vendors agree that it may be difficult for the government and the publishers to regulate the proliferation of online content, they are seeking help in rescuing this old age business from going extinct.

Brian Mwangi suggests that newspaper publishers should come up with a plan where vendors can earn a commission from converting hardcopy readers to the online platform. Brian said that this will help vendors make money even at the face of dwindling hardcopy sales.

He added that the newspaper business has made young people like him get employment from production to distribution and if the business falls then the number of unemployed persons would rise drastically.

“Currently a paper like People Daily has transitioned fully to online and others like The Star, Taifa Leo and Business Daily are on the verge of going fully online. This means that the number of those involved in the production and distribution will be laid off,” he explained.

 By Wangari Mwangi and Yvette Kimani

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