The latest Bureau of Circulations (ABC) figures - for the last quarter of 2011 that were released in Cape Town last week - told a grim story for newspapers but, curiously, the magazines are faring better.
This is probably partly due to the fact that magazines are by their very nature more niched than newspapers - for instance, they target women or parents, guys who love gadgets, teenage girls who love to surf or people who go caravanning and camping. Magazines talk more directly to readers' specific interest than a regional daily newspaper, for instance. This makes it more competitive - and competition is always good for upping the game in terms of content.Magazines came online later
Magazines also came later to online than newspapers. Crucially, this means they have learned from the newspapers' mistakes and have not culled their physical circulations by giving away content for free online. Today most SA magazines have websites that have lively blogs, interesting discussion threads and are generating content online and reverse publishing through features such as reader polls.
Many have also taken to social networks like proverbial ducks to water - Media24's Huisgenoot
, for instance, has a popular Facebook page with 179 000 members and glossies that serve younger markets such as Associated Magazines' Cosmopolitan
are very active on Twitter (the mag's Twitter stream has 20 500 followers) so they are successfully extending their brands 360 degrees.
But I'd also say that our magazine industry has not been as fixated as our newspapers on slugging it out for the elite top-LSM end of the market. While our local newspaper industry has only recently seen the opportunities in the mass market - with Media24's charge into the tabloid world - magazines such as YOU
have been doing this for decades. And, it seems, there are still gaps in this market as we can see with the excellent sales growth of the distinctly non-glossy Kuier
... but more of that later.
Let's first look more generally at the ABC figures for the fourth quarter (Q4) of last year.
Total magazine circulation increased from the previous quarter, mostly because of a large new custom title (Vodacom Now!
) while consumer magazines showed growth, mainly because of new entrants.
In the consumer-magazine category, total magazine circulation increased by 1.4% while real circulation declined by 3.7% (or 233 000 copies). Both single-copy sales and subscriptions declined. Free circulation increased by 37.4%, mainly because of new free circulating titles. Compare this to the newspaper figures
for Q4 2011, in which 97 000 fewer daily papers were sold compared with the same quarter in the previous year - a drop of 6.7% - while single-copy sales declined by 7% and subscriptions by 8.3%.
The notable magazine titles and movers include (and it is important to note that the ABC separates out copy sales of below 50% cover price so 'single-copy sales' refers to those editions sold at 50% of cover price and above. 'Total circulation' incorporates subscriptions, bulking, free copies and those sold for under 50% of cover price):
Consumers becoming less loyal
- In the family-interest category - where we have the big trio of Media24's YOU, Huisgenoot and DRUM - DRUM showed the largest increase: 7% to 137 544 single-copy sales (138 479 total circulation in Q4 2011 compared with 129 317 in 2010). Both YOU and Huisgenoot were down. YOU was at 167 763 single-copy sales (172 403 total from 182 :298 in 2010) while Huisgenoot was at 271 226 single-copy sales (283 355 from 302 677 in 2010) but, here, it must be noted that none of three indulged in free circulation.
- In the competitive women's general-interest category, Media24's Kuier - which was started in 2009 and is aimed mostly at coloured women - grew 100% to 56 :926 single-copy sales (58 672 total from 29 360 in Q4 2010). Destiny Magazine - a joint venture comprising Khanyi Dhlomo and Media24 - increased by 29.5% to 21 757 single-copy sales (30 082 total from 23 237 total in Q4 2010). The big losers were Media24's Fair Lady with an alarming drop of 33% to 44 029 single-copy sales (48 789 total compared with 72 819 total in 2010) and Caxton's Cleo with a drop of 24% to 14 831 single-copy sales (18 771 total compared with 24 689 in 2010).
- Martin Welz's investigative Noseweek - which has suffered distribution problems in the past year - showed the biggest decline in the business-and-news consumer magazines: a 12.9% drop to 10 229 single-copy sales (18 159 total from 20 844 total circ in Q4 2010).
- Both business-mag rivals, BDFM's Financial Mail and Media24's Finweek, are down. There's not much point in looking at single-copy sales for the two as they have such high subscriber bases but the Financial Mail was at 24 515 total circulation in Q4 2011 compared with 25 152 in 2010. Finweek, which got a revamp last year under new editor Marc Ashton, was at 26 241 total circ in Q4 2011 compared with 28 443 in 2010. It must be noted, however, that both publications are bulking and giving copies away for free - Finweek more so than the Financial Mail.
- Other highlights include the continued growth of Ramsay Media's Popular Mechanics, 8.7% up to 28 531 single-copy sales (50 585 total from 46 532 in 2010) in the male category, and Kwenta Media's Mamas & Papas, 55% up to 9 321 single-copy sales (28 444 total compared with 18 346 total in 2010) in the parenting category. In the travel category, Media24's Wegsleep Oordgids put on 17% to 17 727 single-copy sales (17 829 total versus 15 147 total in 2010).
Gordon Patterson, group managing director of Starcom MediaVest Group (and deputy president of the ABC) told Bizcommunity that it was worth noting that there is growth in some titles - even in the very competitive categories - but that, overall, the message in these ABC numbers is that consumers are far less loyal to titles than they used to be.
"Looking at consumer magazines over the past four-year period, one might be excused for thinking that the platform is healthy - particularly looking at the total magazine circulation. Based on the printed reports we see a 32.8% growth in total consumer-magazine circulation," says Patterson, who put the most recent ABC presentation together. "Impressive but deceptive, given a 43% increase in the number of titles reporting.
"Not surprisingly, looking at the average circulation, total or single-copy sales, we see a very different picture emerging. The fact that single-copy sales are decreasing faster (2.7 times) than total circulation suggests that average issue purchasers are less willing to be loyal," Patterson says. "In fact, comparing single-copy sales versus total circulation across the four-year period we note that in 2007 Q4 some 77% of total circulation was single-copy sales versus only 66% in Q4 2011.
"So in terms of magazines the fact that there is healthy category growth shows promise for the future. That said, consumers seem to be more discerning and certainly less loyal. Content remains king."
Patterson says: "The custom-magazine category is an interesting one in that few purchasers see these titles as being different to what we consider to be consumer magazines.
"The principle difference is in the method of distribution...which, in all honestly, makes very little difference from the public's perspective. Some of these titles have larger support bases than their 'consumer' counterparts or competitors...which is food for thought.
"Year-on-year Q4 highlights include Vision
(a Christian magazine owned by River Ministries of the Eastern Cape), up 40% and (Wine-of-the-Month Club's) Good Taste
, up 31%. And on the retail front, the Foschini Soccer Club
grew by a remarkable 182% and Clicks Card
is up 40%," Patterson says.
"The titles that are growing have much to be proud of and should celebrate their success. Further, these titles should engage with marketers to ensure that they are receiving their share of the marketing investment. This reward should encourage others to follow and secure, ultimately, the well-being of print. For those in decline, more of the same is simply not an option."
And that is the same lesson for newspapers: there's no room for slackers if you want to survive the decade. For more:
ABC: Presentation of fourth-quarter 2011 ABC figures
Bizcommunity: Newspapers dire but not dead, say latest ABC circ numbers
, February 2012
Bizcommunity: Latest ABCs: readers looking for quality, relevance
(ABC third-quarter 2011 figures), November 2011