Seven Media24 magazines and two of their newspapers have perished since mid-2007, all for “purely economic reasons” or due to a “combination of market-related factors”, according to a range of press releases.
The current magazine environment in South Africa seems to have lost the friendliness of the past few years when new titles were flooding the market.
“I believe it’s not a mistake to launch a new magazine, but I believe it’s a great mistake to not close it when it does not make money,” M-Net CEO Patricia Scholtemeyer, and former CEO of Magazines at Media24, told The Media magazine last December.
In August last year, media analyst Mike Leahy estimated that 512 new titles entered the overall print market between 2005 and 2006. This meant that if a media planner were to attend the launch of a new magazine every weekday, he or she would still not know all the newcomers.
The latest circulation figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) for the periods October Ã¢Â€Â“ December 2007 and July Ã¢Â€Â“ December 2007 reflect the period of uncertainty the magazine sector has faced in past months. Twelve Media24 titles were suspended from the ABC for discrepancies in their numbers, resulting in several magazine closures and even more confused advertisers, who were already confused by too many options.
Since June last year, Media24 has closed down Insig who “could no longer compete with more frequent publications and electronic media”, InStyle and Wisden Cricketer (both titles had been suspended by the ABC but were closed down for “commercial reasons”), TopMotor and MaxPower (“a business decision”), ZOO Weekly / Zoo Weekliks (“due to a variety of difficult economic conditions”) and True Love Babe (another ABC culprit closed down “purely for economic reasons”).
Also, Media24 shut down the weekly Son newspaper in Gauteng and the Free State in February. The press announcement said: “The decision to close the Gauteng and Free State editions was based on a combination of market-related factors.”
It is clear that decision-makers at Media24 are opting for a more cautious approach to print than a year ago. But a glance at the latest trends in print shows a relatively healthy industry, with local daily newspapers posting a 2.7 percent growth and weeklies a 5.4 percent growth.
Consumer magazines declined by 1.3 percent. “When a publisher produces a product that resonates with the public, they buy it. Those publishers that say, Ã¢Â€Â˜It takes a long time to grow’; it means their offering is not as appropriate as it could be. We’ve seen publications go from zero to hero very quickly,” says Gordon Patterson, managing director of Starcom and deputy president of the ABC board.
Marketing analyst Chris Moerdyk says the Media24 circulation debacle and subsequent magazine closures “probably just started a trend that would have become inevitable in a few months’ time anyway.” “History has shown that while logic dictates that marketers should spend more on advertising in bad times to maintain brand shares, exactly the opposite happens.
Advertising budgets are battened down behind immovable hatches and only the best survive. “The Ã¢Â€Â˜best’ being magazines that have stuck rigorously to providing the best possible content to the most lucrative market segment while conscientiously supplying the ABC with real circulation figures,” Moerdyk writes in his online column.
Crunching the numbers
Examples of “the best” would include !_LT_EMMove!!_LT_/EM magazine, now selling more than 130,000 copies (October Ã¢Â€Â“ December 2007), compared to some 104,000 in the previous corresponding period. Its new editor, Makhosazana “Khosi” Zwane, says unaudited figures show copy sales of more than 146,000 for their February 2008 issue, its highest ever.
Associated Magazines’ Cosmopolitan is one of the few women’s magazines showing growth, now selling more than 120,000 copies, up from around 113,000 in the previous corresponding period.
Caxton’s newcomer CLEO, which is aimed at the same market as Cosmopolitan, sold some 24,096 copies (excluding Third Party Bulk and back issues).
The small gap between competing business titles Finweek and Financial Mail is widening, with Finweek now selling 34,267 (copy sales plus subscriptions) and Financial Mail standing on 27,776 (copy sales plus subscriptions).
But other titles have not been so lucky. Gossip magazines Heat, published by UpperCase Media, and Mense (Caxton’s Afrikaans version of People), both dropped in circulations, with Heat decreasing from 83,084 to 67,859, while Mense is now selling only 16,618 copies as opposed to nearly 20,000 in the previous corresponding period.
UpperCase Media also published the weekly lad mag ZOO Weekly / ZOO Weekliks, which was recently closed down by its partner Media24. Its latest circulation fi gure would have been 29,088, down from 35,340 in the previous corresponding period.
Gordon Patterson believes it was a mistake to shut down ZOO Weekly / ZOO Weekliks: “It was closed for the wrong reasons Ã¢Â€Â“ because of management decisions instead of market decisions. The circulation wasn’t down to a point where it was no longer economically viable. They are leaving a gap for the competition.”
Other consumer magazines showing decreases include: FEMINA (down from about 48,000 to 35,500), Essentials (down from around 46,000 to 37,900), Idees/Ideas (down from more than 131,000 to 110,000), Tuin Paleis (down from about 37,000 to 28,500) and Getaway, now only selling 51,097 (copy sales plus subscriptions, October Ã¢Â€Â“ December 2007).
However, sport and wine seem to be popular with Golf Digest increasing its numbers from around 30,500 to more than 35,000, SA Rugby climbing from 10,000 to 14,000 and Game & Hunt / Wild & Jag going up from 7,791 to 9,106. WINE magazine also increased its total circulation from some 11,900 to more than 14,600.
Men’s magazine newcomer Best Life’s first ABC showed copy sales of nearly 14,000 for the Touchline Media title. The ABC suspensions make it unable to track the progress of the suspended Media24 magazines or compare them to their competitors.
In the woman’s general category, for instance, Caxton’s Rooi Rose magazine is now the queen of the Afrikaans women’s magazines, with copy sales and subscriptions of just over 105,000. Its old rival, SARIE, was suspended from the ABC when these figures were collected, so it is not possible to compare the two.
Likewise for Marie Claire (38,328, copy sales plus subscriptions, October Ã¢Â€Â“ December 2007) and Fairlady (suspended), as well as LÃƒÂ©ÃƒÂ©f (suspended) and Finesse (87,456, copy sales plus subscriptions, October Ã¢Â€Â“ December 2007).
Newspapers and Print Media in Education (PMIE)
On the newspaper front, leader Daily Sun is continuing its upward trend, from 494,875 to 513,291. The Afrikaans daily tabloid Son also increased its numbers from 72,049 to 97,135. However, its weekly cousins in Gauteng (down from 41,942 to 31,173) and the Free State (down from 12,911 to 11,878) have since been closed down.
The weekend newspapers that have reason to smile are Media24’s City Press (up from a total circulation of 183,101 to 195,150) and ILANGA Langesonto (up from 70,291 to 84,061)*.
BDFM’s new weekend paper The Weekender is now selling more than 12,000 copies, up from around 9,300 in the previous corresponding period, the weekly Mail & Guardian is up from 48,292 to 51,842 and !_LT_EMSoccer Laduma!_LT_/EM increased its circulation from 303,461 to 321,986.
However, City Press’ Print Media in Education (PMIE) numbers Ã¢Â€Â“ the copies of newspapers distributed to schools and educational institutions at half the cover price Ã¢Â€Â“ is relatively high at 14,829. The same applies to the Sunday Times, which has a PMIE of 22,602 and Third Party Bulk sales of 36,687, which is more than 10 percent of its total circulation of 504,401.
The Saturday Star and Rapport also have high PMIE numbers Ã¢Â€Â“ 18,737 and 18,691 respectively, a relatively large chunk of their total circulations of 132,212 and 296,237 respectively.
Gordon Patterson says media buyers need to be aware that PMIE can be abused to bump up circulation figures, but adds that it is not an option to ban PMIE.
“The intention behind the PMIE is good Ã¢Â€Â“ it is to educate Ã¢Â€Â“ and I think we’ve got to revisit the intention before we start taking it out. But if people (media planners) do not look at the ABC certifi cates and look at the break-downs, that is their problem. Let the buyer beware,” he says.
In the light of the Media24 circulation scandal and new questions around PMIE, some industry players have called on the ABC to count only copy sales and subscriptions to calculate total circulations.
Patterson acknowledges that “perhaps we need to tweak the ABC rules in a few areas” but does not see Third Party Bulk sales, free copies or PMIE disappearing.
“I think that is a very harsh view on circulation and when I look at the implications from a specialist press point of view, I don’t think that will be very fair. The ABC has an overriding code of conduct which steers people in the right direction.”
* !_LT_STRONGCorrection: !_LT_/STRONGIt was incorrectly stated that !_LT_EMILANGA Langesonto!_LT_/EM’s circulation had increased from 54,040 to 59,905. Its circulation for the period between October and December 2007 had in fact increased to 84,061 Ã¢Â€Â“ from 70,291 in the previous corresponding period.
Ã¢Â–Â This article first appeared in !_LT_EMThe Media!_LT_/EM magazine.