Access to information in South African townships is tenuous compared to historically white suburbs. Although I haven’t spent sufficient amount of time in townships of other African countries, I can confidently say that they face a similar challenge, albeit with different degrees.
Access to information related to technology or entrepreneurship is a bigger worriment.
It’s disquieting however, how marginalized South African townships remain with regard to access to free print media that could transform their lives.
Is There Hope?
I am not about to go on a personal attack on TechSmart but a message to all freemium media publishing houses, including those outside the Technology space. Here I just use TechSmart as an example mainly because they’re said to be the largest in my field:
“We publish 20 000 magazines each month, making us the largest Freemium Tech Magazine in South Africa.”
Whether to remain hopeful that we’ll see such media houses taking townships more seriously as a target audience could be rooted in the last question of this screen-capture.
As of 06 August 2014, the above question was not answered. Note that both questions were posted by non-white people and the later post was answered. We can safely say that the question being ignored is not race related. To be fair, not many of the questions on their page go answered.
I’d like to think that this is only the case for the public eye. I tried to reach the person who posted this question to see if he had received a private answer. That only earned me a spot on the list of ignored persons.
I made a call to Matrix Warehouse in Soweto at Maponya Mall to discover that roughly 30 copies are delivered there each month. I must have given them the impression that I work for TechSmart because they were quick to point out that they hadn’t received this month’s batch.
In June 2014, TechSmart published an article on their website with the title “The Night Light Solar Candle is an eco-friendly light designed and developed in SA”.
Aside from being impressed by the invention, I was left quizzical.
What audience would benefit most from reading this article?
Was this article aimed at generating philanthropy, sympathy or simply educating the privileged of what products are out there for the “impoverished households and poorer communities”?
Either way, there is some hope that they’re thinking about us back at the ranch.
We need to accept that such companies are not Social Enterprises and need to maximise profits. They need to attract advertisers to their affluent audience and boast such key metrics on their site:
- 85% of their readers as male;
- 71% of their readers aged between 18 and 44;
- 46% spent R10000 or more on technology purchases in 2013.
"We are now paying less attention to school deliveries, while also minimising the amount of magazines left over at the end of the month,"
The above was said by Renier van Vuuren back in 2011, distribution manager of Smart Publishing.
It’s not all doom and gloom though! The optimist in me sees some hope in the following item listed under their Mission statement:
“Promote reading and provoke thought”
Who needs this most?
An Unerring Target Market?
To start with, TechSmart lists Living Standards Measure (LSM) 7-10 as their Target Market. I’m not sure whether TechSmart is using the LSM10 or LSM14 model, but I’m assuming they mean to highlight the top salaried people of South Africa.
In November 2012, Megan Chronis dissected this “top third of South African society” with the following points of relevance to my concern:
Over the past decade, the LSM 7-10 supergroup has undergone substantial change.
And with its change in size, there has also been a change in its makeup. In particular, since AMPS 2001, LSM 7-10 has become younger and its racial profile has shifted markedly.
There are 149% more black people in the upper LSMs today than there were 10 years ago, while whites have declined by 45%, Indians by 20% and coloureds by 3%.
The majority of LSM 7-10 falls into SAARF’s ‘At-Home Singles’ lifestage group (24.2%), with ‘Young Families’ (19.3%) and ‘Mature Couples’ (12.9%) the next two biggest lifestage segments.
Considering most black people's backgrounds, a huge chunk of these wealthy "At-Home Singles" would be in black townships. Product consumption patterns of Black South Africans are complicated but I can assure you that more than half of this group are avid readers and gadget junkies. The mapping of black diamonds into the LSM model is a complex task, but those of us from townships know that a lot of black people living in townships also consume what TechSmart promotes.
I grew up in a township in the East Rand of Johannesburg and don’t advocate all issues development-related starting in Soweto. Soweto is however the largest township in South Africa and the question posted on the TechSmart page above refers to Soweto. Soweto boasts the largest township shopping mall too. Delivering 30 copies of TechSmart in Soweto compared to the tray of copies that last for about 2 weeks in Bedforview Shopping Centre is a sign of myopia.
The lack of presence of some media houses in townships highlights the disconnection between the reality of development in South Africa and those who are meant to feed the demands that further development calls for.
Soweto was an easy example to use. It would have been interesting to investigate the situation for Indian communities like Lenasia. Such communities have histories of tycoons and a youth that is hungry for gadgets or “knowing their numbers”.
Digital media is the new print ink. Most companies are advised to invest less in the print media.
There’s a dwindling hope that we’ll ever decrease the gap between the haves and have-nots. The ABC 2014 Q1 report lists TechSmart as one of the Consumer Magazines showing largest decline in circulation.
It does however highlight that print media will not die anytime soon and should not be seen as a competitor to digital media.
Forced to live the neoliberal myth of a “trickle down economy”
Do we create need to create our own non-white Tech print media?
Should we wait for freemium media houses to study our market segment further and hope that soon they realize the potential they’ve missed all along?
Without resources and the passion to go into freemium media myself, the best I can do is take 2 or 3 copies whenever I pop into a privileged shopping mall and circulate them amongst my circle back home. There are probably others that do the same and we’ve probably created an informal distribution network that we’re unaware of.
Is this Prince of Thieves model sustainable though?
Cover Image Credit: Thomas Sly