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Latest ABCs: readers looking for quality, relevance

While total newspaper circulation increased by 135 000 copies over the previous quarter, and the rate of decline slowed, 72 000 fewer daily newspapers were sold in the third quarter of 2011, compared with the same quarter last year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) of South Africa's third quarter report released this morning, Monday, 14 November 2012.
The ABC attributes the increase in newspaper circulation to free and weekly newspapers.

It's not all doom and gloom, however. "If we were seeing declines in circulations across the board, I'd say we're turning our backs on print as a society. However, you'll see dramatic increases and decreases in the same categories. So it's got to be quality- and relevance-related," says ABC VP Gordon Patterson.

Consistent pattern

Interestingly, in the daily newspapers category, vernacular titles showed an increase of 9.3% in circulation, a consistent pattern. "In my opinion, there hasn't been enough focus on the growth in vernacular titles. It's been steadily happening - it's not just a flash in the pan," says Patterson.

However, the report saw a decline in Afrikaans titles circulations, which Patterson speculates could be linked to distribution networks.

Kuier magazine continued its stellar growth, climbing 98% in sales. Says assistant publisher Marina Smith, "Kuier has filled a gap in the Afrikaans-speaking women's market, and with a tailor-made editorial offering, the magazine leaves readers asking for more. The title is growing organically, with the support of strategically-planned increased print orders and an expanding retail footprint."


Weekly newspaper copy sales increased by 18.7%, with total circulation increasing by 20%. Leading the pack, Soccer Laduma grew by 30.7%, Ilanga by 16.5% and the Mail & Guardian by 10.8%.

Soccer Laduma editor Clint Roper says that the recipe lies in attuning to what readers want. "From the very start we've always listened to our readers. We've gone big on the letters page, which is normally a small section. With the social platforms available, we can now continue a 24-hour conversation, minute by minute, on every story we write.

"All of this has helped us attune to what it is our readers want. The success is purely to do with content; being on top of our game," explains Roper.

Distribution critical

However, he says that much has to be done in terms of distribution, a critical factor for all publications. "Distribution still remains a massive hurdle for us to overcome. We've decided to walk hand-in-hand with our distributors - we know if we get in the right areas, we will grow," says Roper.

Mail & Guardian editor-in-chief Nic Dawes attributes the paper's success to its investment in quality and relevant news. "Readers are increasingly anxious to ensure they can trust the news they're getting - and they feel they can trust us. They also want a high degree of relevance, and I hope they feel we provide that," says Dawes.

He says that he's confident that the M&G's growth strategy - particularly their digital platform investment - will underpin steady growth for the future.

Isolezwe and Beeld reflected the largest increases in copy sales for daily newspapers, of 9.3% and 4.7% respectively, while the Daily News suffered the largest decline - 14.7%. In total, 10 titles declined, four increased circulation and four remained static.

Weekend newspapers

Weekend newspaper circulation continued its downward trend. Seventeen titles declined, four increased and two remained static, with year-on-year circulation declining by 3.2%. Of the six largest titles, only Ilanga Langesonto showed growth, with a 6.45% year on year increase.

Beeld also increased its market share, with a 6.6% year on year increase, as did Isolezwe ngeSonto, with 15.8% growth. Venacular titles also saw an increase in this category, with an increase of 10.8% in circulation, compared to the previous quarter.

The Weekend Argus and Pretoria News showed the largest declines, with 10.7% and 10% year-on-year decreases respectively.

'Welcome recovery' for City Press

City Press, which underwent a brand repositioning exercise last year, made what GM Minette Ferreira, terms a 'welcome recovery' of 5%, compared to the previous quarter. The publication saw a year-on-year decline of 6.02%. But according to the All Media Products Survey (AMPS) figures released in September, the newspaper's repositioning is starting to pay off.

"[The AMPS] showed a drop-off in the bottom LSMs and significant growth in the upper LSMs, specifically LSM 10," says Ferreira.

City Press editor Ferial Haffajee says that she's learnt to think of the brand's repositioning as a marathon, not a sprint. "To run the long race has been like building a Rubik's cube - getting all the bits in order from the ground up and then sorting it all out. We now have an excellent team in place, have published i magazine, and we've built agenda-setting potential together with our team at Media24 Investigations," she says.


Although the copy sales for consumer magazines remained static, compared to the same quarter of last year, subscriptions declined by 16%. There was also an increase of 61.5% in free circulation as a result of new free titles entering the market.

In the business and news category, Noseweek took a dive of 13%, while The Thinker climbed up 42% and Succeed magazine increased by 6% in year on year circulation.

Among magazine titles in various categories, Top Billing magazine declined 38% in year on year sales, while FHM fell 23%. House and Leisure and Tuis/Home showed increases of 11.1% and 9.4% respectively, while Cars in Action and Mamas & Papas magazines climbed by 48.4% and 42% respectively.

Quarterly titles

Of the quarterly reporting titles, Drum showed an increase of 8.6%, and Reader's Digest 5.2%. Huisgenoot showed the largest decline, of 5%.

According to Nawaal Motlekar, Mamas & Papas editor, the magazine's success is a result of its relationship with readers. "Our approach is pragmatic, and we address issues affecting people on a daily basis. We also try to marry culture and the medical fraternity without putting a mother at risk. Over and above this, we're the only magazine that talks to both mums and dads," she says.

It appears that the media landscape is going to be as unpredictable as the global economy moving forward into 2012, and the resounding theme for media owners is investment in quality, relevance and attuning to what readers want.


Against the backdrop of a faltering global economy, Patterson says that he expects 2012 to be the toughest year in memory in terms of advertising spend.

"There are various factors for this. Client budgets aren't keeping pace with rate inflation, media owner discounts are declining generally, and we're seeing an increase in declining and fragmented media owner audiences. Then there's the rapidly changing landscape in which twenty per cent of radio listenership is via the cellphone," he says.

Marie Claire editor Aspasia Karras, who saw her publication increase single copy sales from 23 684 in the previous quarter to 28 070 in the current quarter, says that, amid such predictions, the only response is to, "Strive to do what we do better."

"We need to develop smart ideas that will ensure that we stand out from a crowded newsstand and capture the imagination of the reader. The future depends on how successfully we connect with the readers in visceral ways that pay back the vote of confidence they express every time they choose to buy [our product]," she says.

Content is critical to growing circulation

Indeed, content is critical to growing circulation and increasing adspend in an increasingly tough market. "Media inflation is not getting any better. The perspective for 2012 is more concerning with the price of production continuing to rise. Media owners should be looking at their product. If other publications with the same target market are growing, ask yourself: 'What are your competitors doing?'" says Patterson.

Looking to the future, Patterson says media owners need to get a better balance between what they're charging and what they're delivering. "If circulation is going up, you're quite entitled to increase your ad rates accordingly. If not, is it sensible to load your rates, given that you're offering advertisers less?" he says.

He also says that added-value offerings need to be managed better to ensure that there aren't any long-term detrimental effects. Other factors to consider are editorial content - trying to better understand what readers are looking for - and income generation; media owners need to look at how they can stimulate and support their sales people.

Download the ABC results:

For more:

Pdf links added at 10.25am on 15 November 2011.
Tshepang Ramosepele
How interesting that the Top Billing mag has lost so many readers... their biggest challenge is content. Once you have read two or three editions, you can pretty much expect the same in the following editions. African language publications are proving many of us wrong!!! The magazine world is in for a rough ride... i think. My last penny is still on the M&G
Posted on 14 Nov 2011 16:29

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