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Media | Society

Launch of new independent media in Gabon

afrol News, 3 June - A lower cover price, financial support from personal investment and editorial excellence are part of a strategy behind the recent launch of a new private bi-monthly newspaper in Gabon. 'Le Crocodile' promises to bite at both competitors and the government and plans to meet Gabonese censorship with "responsible criticism".

Wilfried Okoumba, owner and managing editor of the newly launched 'Le Crocodile' has a strategy to make the bi-monthly satirical paper a success in Gabon's inhospitable newspaper market. He disclosed his strategy to RAP21, an African press network, organised by the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers (WAN).

'Le Crocodile' appeared for the first time in Gabonese newspaper kiosks on 20 May this year. According to Mr Okoumba, the aim of the newspaper is to "educate and offer responsible criticism," not to transmit a political or ideological message.

- My desire is to educate and criticise without slander, he told RAP21. The cartoons that accompany each article of the 8-page newspaper, as well as the high quality of the paper the bi-monthly is printed on, should also serve to attract new readers.

Mr Okoumba, a customs agent and computer scientist by trade, used his personal income to finance the launch of his newspaper. As such, 'Le Crocodile' is entirely funded by Mr Okoumba's private income stemming from properties he owns – in specific, a motel and profits from two houses he rents out.

In total, Mr Okoumba invested about one million francs CFA (approximately euro 1,500) in the launch of the newspaper. Of this, 300,000 francs CFA (euro 450), was spent to print the first 5,000 issues.

'Le Crocodile', like most Gabonese newspapers, is printed in Cameroon, where printing costs are an average of three times lower, according to RAP21. The printed copies of the newspaper are then sent back to Gabon by airplane, where they are distributed by Sogapresse, a distribution company based in Gabon.

Even with the cost of flying the newspapers from Cameroon, printing outside of Gabon remains the cheapest option for independent newspapers. Fortunately, however, there are no customs taxes for newspapers printed in the neighbouring country, although the content of 'Le Crocodile' is regularly subjected to inspection at the border by Gabonese authorities.

Sogapresse gets 40 percent of the sales revenue, which leaves Mr Okoumba with 60 percent of profits of 'Le Crocodile' sales, the Gabonese media founder told RAP21.

The newspaper currently employs two full-time journalists, a cartoonist and a handful of freelance journalists. Mr Okoumba manages sales, financing and publicity himself.

A key strategy for 'Le Crocodile' is its lower cover price. Mr Okoumba is undercutting competitors with a cover price of 400 francs CFA (0,61 euro), a price that is lower than the prices set by the Private Press Association of Libreville, who sell most of their newspapers at (500 francs CFA, about 0,76 euro), RAP21 reports.

According to the editor, the cost of 'Le Crocodile', is however, higher than the pro-governmental daily, 'L'Union', sold at 300 francs CFA (0,45 euro) and the newspaper close to the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party, 'La Relance', sold at 200 francs CFA (0,30 euro). The money derived from newspaper sales is vital to the survival of 'Le Crocodile', as Mr Okoumba expects little revenue from advertising, he told RAP21.

Achille Ngoma, a Gabonese correspondent for the Paris-based media organisation Panos, gives his views why revenue from advertising is so low in Gabon: "Most companies hesitate to sponsor private newspapers out of fear of loosing the privileges or strategic position given to them by the government."

- As such, the pro-governmental daily and the Multipresse group have the monopoly of the advertisement in Gabon, Mr Ngoma tells RAP21. According to him, 'Le Crocodile' however has an editorial advantage: "It is different from other local newspapers because of the professionalism of its journalists," he says.

Mr Okoumba hopes that through street sales and revenue from independent advertisers, his newspaper will become self-sufficient in about three months time. Mr Okoumba is also convinced that there is a demand for his paper, despite the fact he did not conduct any detailed market research before the launch, RAP21 comments.

Mr Ngoma agrees: "The Gabonese like these types of publications," he says. The journalist draws a parallel between 'Le Crocodile' and Gabon's now defunct newspaper, 'La Griffe', which, before it was shut down in 2001, was very popular amongst the Gabonese public.

Although launching the newspaper has been a challenge, Mr Okoumba has great visions for 'Le Crocodile'. "He wants to transform his paper into a weekly, multiply the pages in colour and add supplements to it," according to RAP21.

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