National Mirror newspapers marked two years of its re-launch last month. Billionaire businessman and publisher of the newspapers, Dr. Jimoh Ibrahim, talks to YEMI ADEBOWALE of Thisday Newspapers, about the challenges and progress made so far in the last two years
The re-packaged National Mirror was two years old last December. How interesting and how challenging has the journey been for you and the team?
We started as a weekly in December 2010 and went full blast as a daily on January 17, 2011. It has been an interesting turn-around which we have all enjoyed. When we bought the old Mirror, we realized that we can’t be running it the way it was being managed. After about six month, we shut it down and re-opened it after about a year. We followed the case of the New York as a case study and deployed our corporate surgeons for the turnaround of the paper. We have since been doing very well in the last two years.
When you say that you have been doing well in the last two years, does it mean that the newspaper is now financially stable? Have you started making good money from advertising and circulation?
Getting revenue from advertisement takes time otherwise, everybody will be going into newspaper publishing. Advertisers want continuity before putting their products in the paper. However, we have been greatly surprised by the level of advertising patronage we have been enjoying. There is hardly any big national or multi-national company that has not advertised in the Mirror in the last two years. If you have been following us, you will see adverts from big firms like Chevron, Glo, Etisalat, Airtel and First Bank. State and federal governments also patronize us with adverts. I still saw Gombe State Government advert yesterday. We get adverts from virtually all the sectors of the economy. This is because of our beautiful and very professional coverage of news. Over time, more companies will start giving us adverts. Our performance in this regard has been wonderful. It is an indication of our acceptance by Nigerians. In terms of financial stability, I don’t know what you mean.
To what extent has Mirror been self-sustaining?
Money is the blood of any corporation and Mirror has not indicated any distress. We are doing multiple printing. We are now installing our fourth press in Owweri. We have six machines on ground. So, in two years, we are already printing from three locations. We will soon install others, most likely in Sokoto, Maiduguri and Kano. We won’t stop there. By our third year, we will bring in more machines. The more we install, the less the problem of circulation.
What has Mirror’s circulation and coverage been like?
What we have been doing is what I call pilot projecting. We can’t cover the whole of Nigeria in one day. So, we looked at where we want to be in six months, then one and then two years. We should be able to cover the whole of Nigeria in five years. Right now, we are in 26 states which I think is too high. But if the management wants it that way, then, it is okay. The focus now is to invest more in distribution, so that the paper can get to readers on time.
What is your print run now?
It has been very high. The percentage of sold copies is much higher than unsold copies. That is an indication of our acceptance and readership. We do about 25,000 daily. We now do between 30,000 and 40,000 copies at weekends. One of our early win strategies is clean quality newspaper. The print is unequal in the industry. The group has been giving Mirror maximum support so that it can continue to excel.
Does the Group support Mirror with cash gift for daily operations apart from Newsprint?
We don’t give Mirror cash again. Mirror is self-sustaining. They pay their salaries and meet other financial needs. They don’t give us money and we don’t give them money. However, I am not expecting money from a company that is just two years old. It is like asking a two-year old to be feeding his father. That will be tough. Our investment is for ten years before we start looking for profit. The story has been good so far. From our corporate theatre, we have not seen anything in Mirror that will warrant a surgery or treatment. The paper is one of the companies in our group classified as Grade A. In this group, we run 16 companies and Mirror is in the A category because it does not give us any problem.
One big issue in the industry has been that of commission for advertisement. What is your take on this?
It is a good idea but don’t forget that some newspapers are new and won’t be able to comply. Some papers come out for a whole week without a single advertisement. If they eventually get a single advertisement, they won’t be able to insist on 15 percent commission.
You have just introduced another national newspaper from the same publisher into the same market. This is unique in Nigeria and some critics say it is suicidal. What’s your take on this?
The two papers have separate budgets. They are not the same. They are focusing on different markets. It is the first time this will happen in Nigeria, but not the first time in the world. In England, The Sun and News of The World are from the same stable. They are also tabloids. But here, Mirror is for the mass market while Newswatch newspaper is for the elite market. There is no distraction anywhere.
I think the main point critics are making is that you should focus on stabilizing the Mirror instead of digressing
Are the critics the owners of the two businesses? How can they be talking like that? The good thing is that I don’t deal with critics because they are not usually in the corporate theatre when I carry out surgeries. I don’t think I need these outside opinions. It is also laughable. How can people who can’t run ordinary barbing saloons be analyzing my business strategies and trying to teach a man who is running 16 companies how to do the job. Nigeria aside, we run regulated businesses in Dubai, United Kingdom, Sao Tome, Ghana. We are doing very well in these places. In the next five years, we would have more staff abroad than Nigeria. So, is it this small newspaper business that will give us problems? You see, we have a strategic plan for newspapers in our group. We intend to give this sector 25 percent of the asset in our group balance sheet every year. I don’t think we have even given three percent. So, what are we talking about? We took that decision about four years ago.
Why the decision to invest so much on your media arm? Is it because you foresee huge profit coming in the future?
It is not about profit but because of our desire to contribute to the development of the nation, using the media. We want to help the society. Apart from creating jobs, they also give voice to the voice less. If you say that I should not establish more newspapers, is it only THISDAY, Punch and Guardian that will employ all the jobless journalists in Nigeria? Don’t you want other journalists to have jobs? Mirror has started winning media awards all over the place. It is already a success. I don’t need any profit from my newspapers. The money I need to take care of myself is small. When I make profit, I re-invest. What do you want me to be doing with my profit? To just go about eating the money alone or just buying things I don’t need? Why should I go about just eating my profit alone when I can use it to set up new companies and create jobs for jobless Nigerians. I am appreciated abroad and I don’t know what the problem is with some Nigerians. The London School of Economics recently wrote a letter to me about sending two of their post-graduate students to come and study my business model. So, how can somebody say that Mirror has not stabilized? We are almost everywhere across the country. We have three printing machines installed. There are three others idle. When installed, we will create more jobs for Nigerians. Don’t you want me to create jobs for more Nigerians? I give respect to critics. Let them continue to criticize while I make more profit and create more jobs. I have no regret with Mirror. I have no regret with Newswatch newspapers.
Where would you want to see Mirror in the next three years?
To be in every neighborhood and every community in Nigeria very early in the morning. By that time, we would have finished installing all our six machines and would launched our campaign for massive distribution of the paper across the nation. By then, we would be implementing our strategy of ward by ward distribution. For example, in Ondo State, we have 203 wards. Mirror must get to all the wards every morning. But so far so good. The Mirror is now widely accepted in Nigeria, reporting all the sides and all the facts. We hardly get litigation here. Our workers have free hands to publish. Readers are happy with the quality of printing and stories. Workers are happy that they get their salaries on time. However, shareholders are not okay yet because they are yet to start getting dividends from Mirror. This takes time and the shareholders understand that.