Digital Media companies are viable in Africa, but it’s a patience game: A chat with Tom Jackson

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At the beginning of this month, Pan-African Tech news site HumanIPO surprisingly announced that it would stop and shutdown its operations on Jan 15th.

“We want to thank the thousands of readers that use the site weekly for their support. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to build sufficient amount of traffic to make it an interesting business to continue.

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If there are investors or entrepreneurs that are interested in taking over the platform then please contact us on team@humanipo.com.”

Although the site is still operational, its last published article was on Jan 15th, the same date that the site had planned for the shutdown. Owned by Kresten Buch, we’ve known the site for its comprehensive coverage of the emerging digital Technology boom in Africa, reporting Startup stories mainly from Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa.

Therefore, site’s shutting down comes as a shock to most industry watchers. This begs the big question of the sustainability of digital media startups  in Africa — one that we asked Tom Jackson who previously worked as Managing Editor at HumanIPO before moving on to start his own site.

#Basically, you can tell me about your previous work at HumanIPO. What it was for you working at HumanIPO

I greatly enjoyed working for HumanIPO, and, alongside what was an excellent team spread across Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, building it up into the leading source of pan-African tech news.

In its heyday, HumanIPO provided something no other site did – an all-encompassing insight into the exciting and growing tech ecosystem in Africa, for Africans and non-Africans, and whether you were interested in startups, telecoms, gadgets or broadcasting.

#In your opinion, what does this mean for African-wide Tech reporting since HumanIPO clearly had an edge at spotting startup news stories across the continent

In this respect, the closure of HumanIPO is a huge loss. No other site brought together African tech so completely on one platform, and those looking for a comprehensive overview have lost a very valuable tool. In terms of startup stories, there are a number of other sites focusing on this area, and I believe my own site — www.disrupt-africa.com — is the most comprehensive in this respect.

So the loss will not be felt so much in this area, but more in the broadness that HumanIPO offers. I still hope an investor or buyer can be found to take over the platform and make it successful.

#HumanIPO claims that they failed to create a viable business model as the reason for closing down. Apparently the site didn’t have enough traffic to attract Advertising revenue. What’s your comment on viability of digital media companies in Africa. 

Digital media companies ARE viable in Africa, but it is a tough game and a long-term play. The consumption of online news is growing, and will continue to, but is still relatively low compared to the rest of the world, particularly in the case of a niche area such as technology.

Online advertising is also still in its infancy, with many companies and governments preferring to advertise in newspapers or on billboards. Plus there are a lot of sites competing for those campaigns. Long-term, this will improve, as more people get online and consume their news there, and more organisations switch their advertising budgets to online. But we are not there yet.

In the meantime, most sites will have to diversify their revenue streams, as advertising alone is a tough way to monetise. But a number of sites are doing that, and we only have to look abroad to see where we will eventually get to. The likes of TechCrunch and TheNextWeb are living proof that online tech news can be a hugely successful and profitable business to be in if done right.

If a buyer is found, HumanIPO could still be as successful as those sites once Africa catches up with the United States and Europe. And myself and Gabriella are certainly confident that Disrupt Africa too can be both a vitally important source of news and a profitable, very scalable business, otherwise we would not have started the business.

#Finally you can tell us why you left and what you are currently working on with Disrupt Africa

Disrupt Africa is a very niche publication in the respect that we are focused entirely on Africa’s tech startup and investment ecosystem. But it is an incredibly valuable tool in that there is no other site that provides such a comprehensive look at the sector across Africa as a whole, covering and profiling startups, hubs and investors, looking at key themes, covering events, and providing information on funds, accelerators and competitions, to Africans and non-African startups, wannabe entrepreneurs and investors alike.

In the less than two months that we have been live we have already seen significant uptake, and with this proof of concept already established we are looking forward to a successful 2015, building our readership and influence across the entire continent.

Image: datify.co.uk