There is an observable trend all across the world that has to do with the growth of digital magazines. While the shift in preference from print to digital cannot be conclusively proven, the fact that thirty percent of ardent magazine readers that reported they prefer digital over print has grown by more than fifteen percent in the past four years says something. Even in our own country, numerous digital magazines are emerging everywhere. As early as four years ago, it was still rare to see such well-designed informative magazines that cover a wide spectrum of issues. Now, it is quickly becoming the norm.
Those that recognized the fertile grounds for this untapped market have their own distinctive reasons, ambitions and ideas for pursuing this business. “We can’t officially say what makes us unique,” Ezra Million, Getz Magazine’s Co-founder/Designer, tells me, “but we think it’s not because of what we choose to cover but who we choose to cover and how we deliver the stories we tell.” The extremely astonishing imagery on the cover and inside each issue as well as the eye-catching vibrant colors they employ attest to the fact that Getz Magazine seems to have found its niche. Heldana Michael (the founder of KeTsenat, another great lifestyle digital magazine that delivers monthly) explains, “We focus on giving everyone from everywhere a voice. We’re content and story-driven. We’re a lifestyle magazine, so anything and everything relates to a person’s way of life, we feature and address.”
GooGoot, a magazine mostly covering arts and currently focusing on photography centered works adds, “We wanted to connect the dots, as they say; we link up writers and visual artists to work on a project or allow them to reflect on each other’s works. Art is a cross-pollination of many disciplines, so we want the readers and the artists themselves to see that and allow the energy to flow.”
“The only remotely mildly surprising thing about the rising popularity of digital magazines as mediums is that it did not come way sooner.”
It is clear to see that each magazine has its unique sense of character with clearly defined attributes. However, that does not mean that the players in this market are not without numerous common denominators. Generally, positive regard to the advantages of digital overprint is the biggest one. When I asked Heldana Michael if she thought that there was a market for digital magazines in this country, she noted, “Yeah, definitely. There are so much talent and creativity that I’m pretty sure that soon we’ll see so much more of digital magazines and media.” To the same question, “Yes, the space is untouched,” answers Ezra Million, “Although it’s hard to say right now, given the current push on internet access and penetration, the only way forward is to create content for the newly acquired market. Moreover, we also believe that diversity in content type and language will help the growth of digital magazines.”
The only remotely mildly surprising thing about the rising popularity of digital magazines as mediums is that it did not come way sooner – seeing the abundance of benefits people involved in digital magazines stand to gain over those still in the print format. A severe reduction of costs of production (mainly in printing), availability of precise data about consumers and reach, quicker and cheaper circulation, etc. are some of the main gains digital magazines have to offer. GooGoot puts it this way, “The one advantage we have over those that are in print is that anyone with a cellphone can access ours; it is a click away.” It is precisely with this ease of access that the rise of this industry is fueled.
The road is not exactly a walk in the park, though. It comes with its difficulties, which are by no means simple. “Mostly, it’s the reach. Since we are publishing in English, it tends to be limiting for the local audience and we are working towards creating and curating content in local languages but that’s a plan for the future,” Ezra remarks. Monetizing their product also comes with its flavor of tediousness, it seems. “The digital penetration, I will say, is too young to be summed up as a big market,” explains GooGoot. “We have more telegram visitors than we do to our website which can potentially tell you that people are used to a particular kind of behavior online. So it will take some time for it to be capitalized on as a potential market.” Not only will it be hard to divert the particular kind of behavior people exhibit online, but it will also be a difficult challenge to break the conditioned comfort that comes with tradition; in Ezra Million’s words, “There’s value in holding the magazine and reading it.”
If the trend continues to grow the way it has been for the past few years, and we have no reason to suspect that it will not, the future is brighter than ever for the digital magazine market in Ethiopia. “For us, with an audience that seeks our content, the digital magazine space is where the creative kick-start their careers and showcase what they can do, especially for Ethiopian creatives, who, for the large part, have been pushed aside in favor of foreign creatives (just like most sectors). It’s also space where stable employment can be created and with the current unemployment trends this something we can’t ignore as a nation,” concludes Ezra.
Internet penetration is only getting deeper and the nation is adopting policies that motivate the expansion of the media. But most importantly, there is a strong demand to get exposed and a deep need for people to display their creative works. For these reasons and many more, it is with confidence that the proponents of the industry claim their optimism.