However, the strategies they are deploying do not meet with the universal approval of advertisers, who need precise circulation figures in order to pitch their message as accurately as possible to their target markets.
Circulation and readership figures are the main determinants of advertising rates.
One of the most disturbing trends is the number of publications being sold at below 50% on average of their cover price, a sure sign of an industry under stress.
The trend was identified in the latest circulation figures for the second quarter, recently released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations of SA (ABC).
The most striking example was Finweek, the business magazine in the Media24 stable. The magazine boasted an enviable 99% rise in circulation to 23,782, due largely to the 12,637 copies that were sold at 50% below its cover price. (The Financial Mail's circulation fell from 23,400 to 19,866 quarter on quarter, as the number of free copies distributed at airports was cut by about 3,000.)
Several of the titles of the Independent Newspapers group adopted the same strategy as Finweek In the case of its flagship, The Star, 13% of its total circulation was sold at less than 50% of its cover price, while for the Pretoria News the number was 22%.
Another method being used is to sell a number of magazines digitally in a single bundle, but claim circulation for each individually. Media24 confirmed that it sells the digital versions of its magazines in bundles, and has declared this in its report to the ABC. The bundle includes Finweek.
According to Media24 magazines division CEO John Relihan the group's Kaboedel/The Bundle offer, which was launched in April 2013, provides access to the digital versions of 14 Afrikaans titles or 22 English titles at a fixed monthly subscription rate.
The current rate is R110/month for all 14 Afrikaans magazines, or the same amount for all 22 English titles. This is a substantial discount to the R80/month subscription for the digital version of Finweek if bought individually or the R27 monthly cost of a subscription to women's magazine Sarie.
It's up to the user to decide what's relevant
These kinds of sales provide an advertiser with absolutely no information about which individual magazines within the bundle are being read.
ABC general manager Charles Beiles says the bureau's rules allow bundled titles to be sold, as long as this is declared. "Categories of sales below 50% are legitimate classes of circulation. Free circulation is as well. It is up to the user of the data to decide which classes of circulation are relevant."
But ABC vice-president and business director of Omnicom Media Group Gordon Patterson does not believe this method of distribution assists marketers and advertisers, who see it as a way of "bulking up" circulation figures.
He notes in a presentation on the circulation figures that "almost 5% of total consumer magazine paid circulation comes from distribution at less than 50% (on average) of the title cover price. On closer investigation [it can be seen that] this development is being driven mainly by one publisher across several categories.
"It is very clear that distribution at less than 50% of the cover price has less value than circulation to people who are prepared to pay the cover price."
The reality is...
The marketing, advertising and media agencies view this form of circulation as self-promotion and don't see why they have to fund it. It enhances the perceived performance of those titles and deceives unsuspecting individuals who may not do their homework properly.
Unsuspecting marketers and advertisers may well be influenced to support a publication based purely on its reported growth in circulation.
Patterson believes promotional material should not be presented as true sales. The advertising industry devotes a lot of time to ensuring the right advertisement is placed in the right environment. The price and content of publications filter consumer interest and allow advertisers to pinpoint their target market. "The reality is that the only viable circulation in the long term is circulation that is paid for based on the value and content of the title. All other forms of circulation are short term," he says.
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I am quite sure that if you had to take the educational copies, airport copies and any other bulk copies out of the true circulation advertising and per copy sales would leave the major press in drastic financial trouble. However it may mean that advertisers will get better overall ROI. Depending on what percentage print plays in their media mix. But this is nothing new. What is new is advertisers measuring other mediums far more carefully and redefining ROI.
"Publishers of newspapers and magazines have been bleeding" . . . and will bleed even more if they don't change current "formulas". I buy three "top" SA home/decor publications. Looking back over the past three years' copies, all three appear to publish the same "features" every month - and have done for three years. Why do I continue to buy, if I'm just getting a rehash of the same goods from all three? Hmmmm . . . perhaps it's time to stop being sentimental about print and go online, to FREE sites . . .
I am a printer. I will tell you this much, PRINT is busy dying month by month. Ask any printer, the majority of us who run magazine, newspaper and book jobs are all watching the market grow smaller. We have seen countless people start up an edition, watched as it took off and watched as they closed down. People are finding it easier to go online in the comfort of their own home and read something digitally. No paper means no mess in the house, everything can be stored on the net or computer.
Lets actually consider this alleged "trend" which you have referred to, using the latest consumer magazine ABC's which you presumably had in your possession when writing this article. Go to the last page- this page indicates total copy sales through out the country, of the total paid only 0.04% have been sold below 50%. Do the same exercise with the daily newspapers and I think you will find that the situation through out South Africa is even further from what you have described as a growing "trend" . Do your homework before writing such subjective articles, if you want to attack Finweek and The Star etc do so, don't drag the rest of the country in for a bit of sensationalist writing.