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Hayibo! Extinction

Hayibo! Extinction

by Andy Davis / 13.09.2010

10 days ago a rare, strange and tellingly poignant species of the South African independent media biosphere, emaciated and red-eyed, shuffled to the edge of a cliff and quietly, head raised in a dignified final salute, euthanized itself onto the rocks below. Much like the kwagga, to keep this conservational analogy going, the demise of Hayibo! has further reduced the bio diversity of South Africa’s media savannah and silenced a crucial voice. It’s starting to feel like a ring-fenced skietplaas in here. But how, with hundreds of thousands of unique visitors, could a source of such compelling and often hilarious South African satire, not make it? We ask Hayibo founder, Tom Eaton, some questions.

Mahala: How did Hayibo come about? Whose idea was it? Who was involved? What was your role?

Tom Eaton: Back at the end of 2007 I was still a bit of a current-affairs junky (no longer!) and I wanted to write satire. Ant Pascoe was a former colleague who was pretty web-savvy, so we hatched it together. His business partner, Steve Porter, is a tech guru, so in one short meeting we had a content person, a brand person and a back-room wizard, and we were ready to roll. My role was as writer, writer, writer and writer. I wrote almost everything at first. Later on when we had a couple more writers I suppose I was a kind of editor, although I can’t spell and my punctuation, is, horrible, so I think I wasn’t so much supervising as just observing.

You guys seemed to have a massive audience. Were linked to Independent Newspapers, etc. Why do you think it was so difficult to translate that into money?

We SEEMED to have a massive audience but I think we stayed pretty niche. Somehow the figure of 80,000 unique users has been floated around on the Intertrons. I think it was considerably lower than that – I know we were averaging about 60,000 visits a month, and maybe 35,000 or 40,000 absolute uniques. Of course, then there was the Saudi vagina story which the whole of the American Midwest believed and we got about 100,000 visits in a couple of days.

I don’t know much about the business side of running a website but from talking to people I got the impression that people loved our content but were just too chickenshit to associate any major brands with it. And yes, speaking of chickens, we did approach the brands everyone thinks are funky and “out there” – you know who they are. And they all said thanks but no thanks. Twice. Ironically enough one of our biggest potential money-spinners was an offer from the ANC last year before the elections, offering moolah for campaign ads. We discussed it for about nine seconds and decided if we were going to run a site flinging poo at politicians we couldn’t in good conscience take their money. We decided that we wouldn’t accept ads from any political party, and that was that.

We briefly considered charging for content, and I’m sure some of our biggest fans would have paid a small subscription, but there would have just been too few of them to warrant losing all the rest.

Was the business model for Hayibo built around selling advertising? What was the downfall? Where did it all go wrong?

Initially the business model was built around my vanity and Anthony’s wildly delusional optimism: the thinking was, “We are awesome, people will throw money at us for being awesome.” Anthony also kept me motivated by telling me that we were “almost there”. He was telling me that two months after we launched when we had 9 users (including our parents) and I think he last said it the day before yesterday. He’s been infuriatingly positive. But I think once we calmed down we realised that we needed ads, because the shop, while profitable, was too small to carry the whole enterprise. T-shirts can make you money but then you need to be in the business of selling T-shirts, not writing satire for free and posting off the odd T-shirt when you remember.

What ultimately killed us was a cash-flow double-whammy: the Mail&Guardian ended their syndication deal and about a week later Kagiso Media canned our little radio slot. Both had good reasons: the M&G was cutting their freelance budget, and Kagiso’s listeners wanted something newer, bigger and better and we were too small and poor to go the “naxt lavel” as Die Antwoord would say. Once that happened we were operating at a loss.

Where it all went wrong? I just have no idea. I mean, sure, South Africans aren’t that comfortable with satire, and most prefer their comedy to involve exploding long-drops, overdoses of laxatives and porcupine quills stuck in arses, and sure, we are a country that hates reading, but….oh, wait…

So yes, we probably picked the most un-sellable product and put it in the most unpopular medium in the country, and then didn’t market ourselves, but I wouldn’t have done it any differently. Ultimately Hayibo wasn’t a business. It was a compulsion. I wrote just over half the stories on the site myself and you don’t produce that much verbiage essentially for free unless you’re a little bit obsessed.

Since we announced our demise we’ve got a huge amount of support but also a few people saying “good riddance”. Some have suggested that there remains a space for satire in SA but that Hayibo failed to fill it because it wasn’t good enough. This is an almost universal reaction to comedy: ‘X didn’t make me laugh therefore X isn’t funny. And if X isn’t funny then it is Crap’. It’s a very human position to take, but of course it’s also profoundly narcissistic, making yourself the centre of a comedy universe and arbiter of all possible tastes. Once you move beyond this, and realise that there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of different senses of humour in this country, ranging from exploding toilets, cruel practical jokes and outright torture porn to uber-self-referential internet memes (I can haz comedic variety?) you have to admit that anyone who gets South Africans of all races, ages and political backgrounds laughing at the same things isn’t doing too badly.

What are you going to do now?

I’m going to rediscover what it’s like to do nothing on Sunday and Monday nights. I’m also writing two TV series as well as a rom-com that starts shooting in January next year, so I’m pretty much snowed under for the rest of the year.

Goodbye Hayibo. We are going to miss you.

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RESPONSES (23)
  1. Lara says:

    Ya, this sucks. I was really bummed when I heard the news. Satire like this should be EVERYWHERE no matter who digs it or not and how big/small it is. It should be pervasive. I’m sad to see you guys go.

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  2. a very sad day says:

    I too feel a great loss at hayibo’s calling it a day. SA is the poorer for this, and coming as it does on the back of the “Protection of Information” debacle, it is all rather depressing. A huge thank you to Tom, Anthony and Steve for all your effort, you made a lot of people laugh. Be extremely proud of producing such quality work so consistently. You will be missed.

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  3. Rubbernecker says:

    You know what? Why is Cape Town so shitty when it comes to magazines and journalism.

    One Small Seed is written by a bunch of cunts. SL I don’t think I need to describe to any discerning person. All the websites are kak (this one has the seed of greatness, but it’s only a seed) …

    What the hell are we supposed to read?

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  4. Bob says:

    Why don’t you try write?
    You can’t be worse than those that you hate.

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  5. brandon edmonds says:

    I like your dead end doom @rubbernecker – how can we make that seed bloom?

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  6. Rubbernecker says:

    @Bob

    but the thing is – who do you write for? where do you start? is it even worth starting, or is it better to hop on a jetplane and actually be a part of something creative and vital overseas?

    @brandon edmonds

    I’ve been reading this website for a loooong time. Outside of YOUR writing, which is impecable (but, come on let’s be constructive, a little rambly), there’s one good article for every ten, and the layout of this page is awful. You want to make the seed bloom? It probably won’t happen – this is just the nature of good quality writing and journalism in this country. show me one other critical youth site/mag that isn’t run by a bunch of cunts? Now that Hayibo’s closed down, I dread what’ll happen to Mahala.

    Another problem is the larger part of your SA audience are idiots, and sychophant idiots at that.

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  7. LOL says:

    Lots of people in SA dont appreciate satire..Maybe they are too used to the poor comedy of Trevor Noah,David Kau,Riaad Mossa etc..these are the same group pf people who watch WWF wrestling and still think its real!..they wont know good comedy if it slapped em in the face..its actually sad that good comedy minds are forced to cast off while irritating twits like Trevor Noah are all over the place

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  8. brandon edmonds says:

    Rambly @rubbernecker. How very dare you! Our print mag is coming out soon. We’re moving into TV. We’re working on Africa bureau’s. Things are happening. The SA audience aren’t idiots. There’s more than enough smarts out there. It’s just about being good more often than shit. We’re getting there. Agreed on Trevor Noah. Working on a new poephol ripping piece on him.

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  9. julius says:

    i find it really hard to believe that they couldnt get advertiisers, or make the model work somehow. oh, well that’s the story then, and i guess if Tom Eaton’s moving into TV then he’s off the radar as far as i’m concerned. Bummer that.

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  10. Chucky says:

    Brandon, about a year ago I found myself sitting at a small deli in Cape Town about two feet away from Trevor who was wooing some bit of lovely fluff. What I found extraordinary though was not how he oozed pure refined sleaze from every pore but that he spoke for the entire time in a very weak American accent. I got plenty of exposure to the accent because he didn’t let her get a word in, just kept talking about how he invests (“I don’t study the graphs, I just go with my heart”) and how he’d grown up so dirt poor and all he wanted to do was buy his mom a big house and car. She looked only slightly less intelligent than him so she was dripping off her chair by the time I left.

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  11. Steppin' Wolfe says:

    @edmonds

    You’re working on African bureaus? Are you fucking kidding me? This site can barely keep its ass on the bidet, and you want to start up African bureas?! Try getting a site redesign done instead, man!

    On the TV thing, though, tell us more. Sounds interesting.

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  12. brandon edmonds says:

    Yeah I was lying about the African bureaus. I lie. I’m in the media.

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  13. Steppin' Wolfe says:

    And the TV stuff?

    Also, I just re-read the opening sentence of this article:

    “a rare, strange and tellingly poignant species of the South African independent media biosphere”

    What do you mean by strange? If you mean strange as in, strange to other sites, then it means the same as ‘rare’ essentially. And ‘tellingly poignant’ – what’s up with that adverb? How’s it ‘tellingly’ poignant? Just keeping you on your toes, people.

    I LOVED this line, though: “It’s starting to feel like a ring-fenced skietplaas in here”.

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  14. sleaze says:

    Going to miss Hayibo, if we were every lose Zapiro we are doomed, we can only laugh at Malema for so long before he has the last laugh.

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  15. business model says:

    Initially the business model was built around my vanity and Anthony’s wildly delusional optimism: the thinking was, “We are awesome, people will throw money at us for being awesome.”

    Now that sounds familiar

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  16. Ingamla YaseKapa says:

    @ stepping wolfe: i dont get whats wrong with the site? I like it

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  17. Moose says:

    Make a site design competition.
    They need to design a template for you and send it over. Then you use each template for a week, check the stats and get the readers to vote whether they are kif or kak.

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  18. trolleywood video says:

    why dont he publish the satire in a book?

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  19. Andre Steyn says:

    Thanks to Tom, Anthony and Steve for months of prime entertainment. I gave up reading TheOnion when Hayibo came along as I loved the homegrown feel.

    I’ll have to schlepp back to TheOnion now.

    Sayonara Hayibo.

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  20. Bunny Gatsby says:

    Goodbye, Hayibo. I miss it already.

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  21. Sarah C says:

    people may not have come back from the dead, but business deals can/do. relaunch Hayibo pretty PLEASE.

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  22. Thandi says:

    Trevor doesnt need to be funny nor smart, he’s hottt!!! That having been said, I am so sad. South African media has lost a gem…

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  23. Mozelle says:

    I am genuinely happy to read this blog posts which carries lots of useful information, thanks for providing such information.

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