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Smartphones killing cybercafe business

Before the advent of wide-screen, internet-enabled mobile phones in Kenya, a cybercafé was a One-Stop Shop for internet solutions, ranging from printing services to accessing e-mails, online gaming, and updating one’s social media pages.

However, the advancements in mobile phone technology and the availability of super-fast internet are slowly rendering cybercafé businesses obsolete.

In Nyeri, those who are still in operation say that they have been left counting losses owing to the dwindling number of customers in need of their services.

Timothy Mbaire, who runs Super Smart Cyber, recounts the transformation that his business has undergone in the 10 years he has been operating his cybercafé in Nyeri town.

He says that when he set up the business in 2013, the single shop was his primary source of income. However, he has been forced to run the once-booming business as a side business due to dwindling clientele.

“I used to make more than Sh 10,000 in a day when I first opened this business. The money would come from browsing charges, typing services, setting up e-mail accounts, and social media accounts,” says Mbaire.

About 13 years ago, a customer visiting the cyber to browse the internet would part with between Sh 80 to Sh 100 per hour. Getting a one-page, word document typed in a cybercafé would cost you Sh 50, but anyone with more than a 10-page document had some bargaining chips.

Similarly, the cost of printing a page in black and white would see you part with a minimum of Sh20. Mr Mbaire says that he is now struggling to sustain the business since everything about it changed with the entry of smartphone technology.

“A decade down the line, the income has reduced by half, and it sometimes goes to as low as Sh 2,000 per day. In addition to having fewer customers, I have also been forced to reduce some of the charges for most of these services. For instance, I now charge Sh 20 per hour for browsing, down from Sh 60, while I charge Sh 5 to print out a page in black and white,” he adds.

Like Mbaire, Ben King’ori, proprietor of Prime cybercafé, attests that many cybercafés are now thriving on the provision of services such as printing, binding, and photocopying that are not within the reach of most of their customers.

He, however, notes that the government’s decision to provide services online has also given cybercafé a much-needed shot in the arm. “Most services are accessible online, so our customers just apply and only come to us when they need to print the documents or to get specific services that cannot be accessed through a smart mobile phone. That means our work load has been reduced, and most times we can go a whole day without a customer,” he stated.

In order to ensure they stay in business, Juliet Watiri, another cyber owner, says she has had to constantly introduce new products to their primary business.

In 2018, Watiri attempted to tap into the online video games in a bid to increase her earnings. She says as much as it has paid off, she is in the process of scouting for another product that will help her survive since most of her customers are now accessing videogames on their smartphones.

“In 2018, I tried to reach the younger generation by offering Play Station games services. For three years, I had a good number of customers, but this year the numbers have started to decrease. From having more than 20 customers a day, I now get less than five since most of them can access these games on their phones or laptops,” Watiri explained.

“What I have realized after staying in this business is that you have to keep shaking up your services in order to remain relevant. That is why you find most cybercafés also stock up on mobile phone and computer accessories,” she adds.

By Kelvin Muthukumi and Yvette Kimani

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