What do you do when you are forced to cease publication for financial reasons? Charles Rukuni, editor-in-chief of the monthly review, “The Insider” in Zimbabwe decided to take his publication online to avoid having to stop production altogether, after escalating printing costs forced him to halt the print version of his review.
In the last article of its three-part series on taking newspapers online, RAP 21 speaks to Charles Rukuni about the logistics and his future plans for expansion.
The print edition of “The Insider” was launched in 1990 and ceased publication in May 2003. Two months later, the online version of the review was launched, replacing the 16 page paper version.
RAP 21: What kind of publication is “The Insider”?
Charles Rukuni:“The Insider” is a monthly review that offers readers in-depth reports and analysis on business and political issues. It is a subscription-based publication aimed at business leaders and opinion makers.
RAP 21: What were the events leading up to your decision to take “The Insider” online?
Charles Rukuni: The decision was motivated by escalating printing costs which had become unmanageable due to the declining value of the Zimbabwean dollar. Printing costs were going up with every issue. Circulation was not in any way affected by this, but I simply could not afford the printing costs.
RAP 21: How did you take “The Insider” online?
Charles Rukuni: I took a week-long web publishing course at a private college and bought two books on HTML and experimented as I went along. My first site was designed using frames. I realised some people could not view the site, especially those using Netscape. So I redesigned the site using a free template from freewebdesignhelper, and modified the template to meet my own specifications. Altogether it took me about a month to take the publication online.
RAP 21: What has been the total cost of taking “The Insider” online?
Charles Rukuni: The course cost me ZWD $145,000 (150_?), and the two books on HTML cost me ZWD $70,000 (75?). The phone bill and internet connection cost me about ZWD $150,000 (160?) a month. I had no external funding; I paid all the costs from my own resources. I paid my server 160? for two year, including the domain name.
RAP 21: How do you get technical support when you run into problems?
Charles Rukuni: My server, Powweb, has a support team and they usually advise me what to do when I have problems. It also has a discussion forum where other web designers offer help if the support team cannot – these are the people who told me about the problem of using frames. I also get feedback from friends and colleagues I had advised about my website.
RAP 21: Do you have any previous technical training or experience?
Charles Rukuni: Prior to my course, I did not have any technical skills. Now that I have learned basic HTML I know the basic tags and therefore can weave my way through – except when it comes to scripting which I usually get from free downloads.
RAP 21: Are you making any money yet from the online version of “The Insider”?
Charles Rukuni: The website is not generating any income at the moment, but I am still building it and it is too early to expect any income. Currently, however, I am spending money only on the connection costs and the phone bill. I am planning to look for advertising once the site is known.
RAP 21: How do you plan on generating income through the website?
Charles Rukuni:My aim is to build a website that will have information dating back from December 1990, when the print version of “The Insider” was launched. Once this is all online, I will restrict access, especially of the archives, so that people pay for that information. I am also building a comprehensive database for all companies listed on the stock exchange. This shows the name of the company, principal officers, principal shareholders and reports, annual and half-year. I am hoping that companies will advertise on these pages. I am also planning to have PDF versions of the paper online so that my subscribers can print it out since most of them want hard copies. Again, this facility will only be available to subscribers.
RAP 21: Have you been able to monitor how many hits you receive on a daily basis?
Charles Rukuni: I am not yet able to monitor who is visiting and from where. My primary concern at the moment is to get the site off the ground and to upload as much information as possible so that it becomes a reliable site that people can come to for information about Zimbabwe. I am also trying as much as possible to promote the site so that people know about it. My only restriction at the moment is lack of capital to advertise the website.
RAP 21: What have been the greatest challenges to taking “The Insider” online?
Charles Rukuni: The greatest challenge thus far has been the design and marketing of the website. I have finished the design and am now working on the marketing.
RAP 21: What are your long-term goals with the online version of “The Insider”?
Charles Rukuni: I am planning to expand the online version to include chat rooms and interactivity as well as databases that I think will add value to my subscribers. I intend to hire a webmaster as soon as the site starts making money, and will also train my assistant so that I can concentrate primarily on the content of the website. I am also planning to use material from freelance journalists provided they meet my strict criteria, which is exclusivity. No recycling of stories. I have no plans to resume production of the paper copy of “The Insider”.