Ethiopia's "newspaper landlords" rent the want-ads by the minute

Ethiopia's "newspaper landlords" are entrepreneurs who rent the right to read a US$0.35 newspaper for 20-30 minutes at a go, for less than $0.01 per rental. Most of their customers are reading the want-ads. Newspaper publishers are ambivalent about the practice -- on the one hand, it creates a newspaper-reading habit among the nation's aspiring poor, but on the other hand, rentals displace some sales -- and the "landlords" complain that customers steal their newspapers.
Tesfaye says that 30 to 40 people will read a single paper. At the end of the day, the well-thumbed publications can be sold on.

"After a newspaper passes its deadline we will sell it to shops who can use it as packaging for items that they sell," says Tesfaye, who says he uses the earnings from his business to support his three siblings.

Renting a read from 'newspaper landlords'


  1. Someone needs a maths lesson. From the article:

    “A newspaper in Addis Ababa costs about six birr (35 U.S. cents) to buy. In contrast, it costs only 50 Ethiopian cents (less than one U.S. cent) to rent one.

    “If 20 readers read this single paper at the rate of 50 cents, I will make 10 birr (about 60 U.S. cents),””

    So, 6 birr = 35 U.S. cents but 50 Ethiopian cents is less than 1 U.S. cent?

    I wouldn’t mind so much but it’s repeated in the boingboing description too.

    1. So that you can get on with your day, just know that a birr is an Ethiopian dollar. A newspaper costs them 6 dollars. They can rent it out for 50 cents to 20 people and that will net them 10 dollars.

      Trying to convert that into US dollars is unnecessary, except to point out how poor their dollar is in comparison.

    2. According to 6 birr are 36USc and 50 santim (half a birr) is 2.9 USc .. so .. yes .. miscalc there … maybe the person though there are 1000 santim in a birr … but the ball-park is not too far off …

  2. That is one mark in Ethiopa’s favor. They seem to value their newspapers. These papers would be foolish not to take advantage of this when making sales pitches to advertisers. It is a fact that newspapers in the US do, since most single sale copies are read by more than one person. I always leave my paper on the table when leaving a restaurant or fast food joint. You can bet they are grabbed immediately by someone else. I got hooked on newspapers when serving in the USMC in Okinawa. Every morning, I would purchase a copy of the Pacific Stars and Strips and everywhere I went, I was always asked if I was through with the paper. I handed it off and never asked for the cover price, which would have been in my power to do. One rarely does this with books, after all, so I guess Ethiopians are smarter than I.

    Hypothetical example for Ethiopian paper: Our daily circulation is 20,000. 50% of that is in single copy sales, the rest in subscription delivery. Since 50% of our papers are read by 40 people, this means your message is being seen by 60,000 people a day, versus an estimated 10k by radio and 2,500 by TV.

    Only in Ethiopia.

    Full disclosure: I am a print and web designer at a daily newspaper, one that has not lost an appreciable amount of advertisers due to the economy, thank you very much.

  3. Literacy rate over age 15 is only 42.7%, according to the CIA World Factbook. That’s a huge untapped market!

  4. asking again .. any1 in Addis reading BB? Just wondering … I might move there .. and I hear the internet connection is the 4th worst in the world (though the JUST changed plans and prices .. so I could possibly live with a 6GB cap per month on ADSL ) …

    1. Yeah, internet connections in Ethopia are pretty shocking. And as far as I know the fast new cable that’s being laid to serve East Africa isn’t going to reach there.

      I’ve spent some time there. It’s an amazing, crazy, fascinating, occasionally frustrating city in the middle of one of the most incredible nations on the planet.

      What has you moving there?

  5. my significant other’s job … but it is still not set in stone … so .. I am just gobbling up all info I can get … and the internet connection is just one of my major life lines … I used to live in a place where I had a 500MB cap .. and that was just crazy … barely enough to check mail and read some news ..

    any way I can contact you directly?

  6. Reminds me of the newspaper wars every morning in the various McDonald’s across Canada. Seniors have figured out that they can easily have the endless coffee refill at McD’s in the AM, so the newspapers are always a hot commodity. The seniors watch the papers like hawks, waiting for an opportune time to grab one.

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