Francois Nel from the For the Media blog pointed me towards his blog recently (pretty good, I must say). This post in particular caught my eye. He broadly examines why online newspapers in South Africa are not cracking it, compared to their world counterparts.

For Francois — it’s down to leadership:

It is, I would argue, down to leadership. In that, South African newspaper editors have much in common with their colleagues in the UK (the group with which I have the most interaction) and elsewhere (I suspect) : they’ve been happy to be seen to be on the web, but are not part of the web. With that they’ve been happy to let the techies do their thing somewhere else, but not nearly as eager to integrate operations.

Yes, that may play a role — although it’s not something that we practice at the M&G Online. But I think it’s mainly to do with internet penetration in the country as one individual pointed out on his blog. The effective local audience of news sites in SA is still probably only at around 2,8-million. The OPA, of which M&G Online was a founding member, shows that the local online publishing industry attracts somewhere around 7,2-million total users, SA and international traffic combined. The international audience far outstrips the local audience. It’s an irony, because we are South African news sites primarily catering to a local audience, yet our external readership is higher. The external audience mainly comes from the US and UK, which have very high internet penetration rates, incidentally. It also probably has alot to do with Google news, which sends a huge amount of international traffic through to local news sites.

But speak to anyone in the online media sector these days and, in contrast to about three years ago, you will find them bullish about internet growth prospects in the country, probably for the following reasons: Neotel launching to compete with the current fixed-line operator Telkom, broadband (both mobile and ADSL, DSL etc) picking up speed, general convergence of devices (my cellphone, fridge accessing the net) and general downward pressure on data prices, and the bright economic prospects of South Africa also pay homage to this. For these reasons, I think the internet in South Africa is poised for growth.

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