Even as media businesses around the world struggle to maintain advertising revenue, in Nigeria they are ever more dependent on advertising because subscription models are still uncommon.
The challenge in a country where political power is far-reaching, even in corporate circles, is the implicit risk of publications having their independence undermined in a bid to stay afloat.
That was the reality for Stears, a Nigerian economy and business publication, which has just raised $600,000 in seed funding with participation from Luminate, a philanthropic organization spun out of the Omidyar Network in 2018. One of Luminate’s managing directors is Ory Okolloh, a veteran investor with African startups. Luminate invested alongside two unnamed Nigerian venture capital funds.
“We found that there were challenges with the traditional media business model,” says Preston Ideh, one of the outfit’s four co-founders. “Once you start relying on advertising…you may not get the freedom to really to do some in-depth work, most especially in the Nigerian media space.”
The solution was to imagine the media and information industry differently, replicating an information services model currently operated by platforms like Bloomberg. In addition to Stears Business, its online business publication for consumers it also set up Stears Data, a data analytics and research company offering enterprise information for corporate and government clients.
The seed round is significant for a home-grown Nigerian media publication business in a space that has long been characterized by loss-making and an inability to fashion out commercially viable models without relying on government patronage. 234Next, an ambitious print and online media publication launched in 2009 by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dele Olojede, shuttered operations after two years, after running into trouble with advertisers scared off by its investigative reporting.
By offering data and research services, Stears is part of a growing crop of new-age, homegrown economic intelligence companies aiming to reverse the lack of a strong data culture. One of its high-profile projects in that regard was an electoral data center, allowing Nigerians to track results by state and constituencies during Nigeria’s general elections last year.
Nigeria’s poor data culture is most prevalent in government circles as, despite earning plaudits for its work in recent years, Nigeria’s statistics bureau remains underfunded. In an incident last October, Nigeria’s president Buhari railed against an unflattering World Bank report saying it bore “little relation to the facts on the ground.” The catch, however, was that Buhari did not provide any data to back his point but instead promised to improve local data collection.
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