It looks like the favourite toy of NMG marketing people is a stapler.
They stitch up the Nation with staples so that non-buying readers cannot browse through the paper at the newsstands. This inconveniences and annoys people who buy the paper because they have to find a way of safely and quickly removing the staples.
The marketers are trying to defeat the “newspaper landlords” who “rent” out the newspaper to people who are too poor, or are unwilling, to buy the paper.
The Press landlords are vendors who allow such people to leaf through the newspaper for a small fee instead of buying the paper outright.
The NMG marketers see the renting as a lost opportunity to sell papers. So, their knee-jerk reaction is to clamp the newspapers by stapling them so that they can’t be rented and they can sell more papers. However, this is illusionary.
Newspaper renting is a common practice across Africa, from Abidjan in the west to Addis Ababa in the east. It occurs because poor people can’t afford to buy a newspaper.
With a cover price of Sh60, the Nation costs more than a loaf of bread (500g) or half-a-litre of milk.
Thus renting the paper, as opposed to buying, occurs naturally as part of “the kidogo economy” – just like when people buy one cigarette instead of a whole packet, a squeeze of toothpaste instead of a whole tube, and a small measure of cooking oil instead of a whole bottle.
More than one-third of Kenyans survive on the kidogo economy. They live on less than $1.90 per day (about Sh190), the international poverty line, according to the Kenya Economic Update.
They have to choose between buying a loaf of bread and a newspaper. Bread always wins.
But determined to stop the renting, the marketers clamp the newspapers using heavy-duty staples that can’t be easily removed.
Last week, Mungai Kihanya joined readers who have been complaining about the stapling.
In particular, Mr Kihanya, who writes the Sunday Nation column, ‘The World of Figures’, questioned the purpose of stapling.
“Why are they stapling the newspaper shut these days? Is it to stop ‘eavesdroppers’ who read at the vendors’ stands without buying? Whatever the reason, it’s inconveniencing those of us who actually buy the paper.
"Hence, it’s counterproductive. And I doubt whether the staples increase the circulation numbers.... perhaps they only increase the production cost!" he said.
Three weeks earlier, Upin Vasani had questioned why his home-delivered Nation was being stapled. We took up the issue with the marketers.
“The newspapers are stapled to stop people from reading the newspaper at the newsstands,” they explained.
“Because if they do they will not see the need of buying and the company loses sales.”
We pointed out that Mr Vasani had his paper delivered, so there was no need to staple it. Now they deliver the paper minus the staples.
It’s so obvious no reader wants to buy a stapled newspaper. If readers complain, I’m now disinclined to go back to ask the marketers all over again to stop the stapling.
Plus this is not a sufficiently editorial complaint to preoccupy the public editor. So, I’m inclined to tell them they’re on their own.
They can exercise self-help. They can use a kitchen knife to remove the staples (even if as an exercise in anger management).
Or they can invest in a staple remover that can quickly remove the staples without tearing the paper (I recommend the Kangaroo Staple Remover, which is small and convenient to carry but will set you back some Sh800).
Or they can sue. The law says goods when sold must be “fit for purpose”. A stapled newspaper is not fit for purpose.
Of course, it’s entirely possible no self-help will be necessary. After this, the marketing honchos might do their math and arrive at the same conclusion that we have: No serious newspaper buyers are lost by not stapling the papers; no serious newspaper buyers are gained by stapling the papers.
Stapling just consumes time and money. And inconveniences and annoys those who buy the paper.