If statistics presented by the sole official distributor of newspapers in Cameroon are anything to go by, then newspapers in Cameroon are on a highway to the grave. Messapresse, the lone registered distributor has declared that it will shut down due to heavy losses which now stand at 80%.
Christian Carisey, French-born Chief Executive Officer, CEO of Messapresse told newspaper publishers in Yaounde on February 10 that he is considering folding up due to unbearable losses incurred in the newspaper distribution business. The Frenchman told the members of the Cameroon Newspaper Publishers Association, commonly known by its French language acronym, FEDIPRESSE, that 80% of the newspapers delivered to Messapresse for distribution are unsold, which has caused the company to lose circa 270million FCFA.
Messapresse currently retains 40% of proceeds per newspaper sold. As a solution to the dwindling sales, Christian Carisey is suggested to increase his cut to 50%. A proposal which was turned down by newspaper publishers. Carisey and the publishers have agreed that the distributor would have to wait until the end of March 2017 to close down his business.
Haman Mana, President of FEDIPRESSE and Publisher of French language daily Le Jour, says they had to agree to terms of separation. He said they could not agree to the 50/50 share of newspaper sales proceeds with the distributor because, they believe it would kill local newspapers. He argued that the responsibility of the press is too important to be hampered by a distribution hitch. According to Haman, by the end of March, they (publishers) would have developed a mechanism to enable them distribute newspapers by themselves.
The significant decline in the sales of newspapers was first declared in June 2016. Sales dropped to the point that 75% of newspapers delivered for distribution at Messapresse were not bought.
Failed distribution system
Publishers have however pointed out that the diminishing sales are not necessarily linked to the momentous role new media. They blame the distributor for failure to effectively distribute newspapers.
In 2014, during a meeting held at the GICAM headquarters in Douala, publishers complained that the distributor no longer had enough vehicles for newspaper distribution. Michel Michaud Moussala of Aurore Plus newspaper who is equally one of the Vice Presidents of FEDIPRESSE noted that 20 years ago, Messapresse used to cover the whole country. He pointed out that newspapers used to print as many as 30,000 copies and sold up to 67% of the print run. But now they print 3000 or 2000 and are unable to sell 50%. He said the distributor had eight distribution cars but had only one by 2014. Messapresse, which publishers threated to sue in 2014, shut down 60% of its newsstands in Douala and 44% in Yaounde, Cameroon’s biggest cities.