Now that broadband is more freely available in South Africa, naysayers in the communications industry are predicting that the internet will impact negatively on local newspaper sales and that, as a consequence, the medium will lose its power as an advertising option. To support this view, they quote what the internet is currently doing to newspaper sales in the US and in the Scandinavian countries. Copy sales are down and so is advertising support.
There is an automatic assumption amongst local pundits that what happens abroad will eventually happen in South Africa. While social and lifestyle trends that surface abroad eventually go global, the migration to third-world countries is a long and drawn-out process and is dependent upon the economy.
It is therefore important to bear in mind that internet penetration into homes in the US and Europe is extremely high. In addition, their population is urban-based and, on average, relatively well educated and more affluent compared to South Africa.
While the South African communications industry cannot ignore the impact of the internet on first-world societies, there is no need to panic in the short term. We are, in essence, a third-world country, with a thin coating of consumers that live a first-world lifestyle.
In terms of the consumption of branded goods, the bulk is purchased and consumed by the third-world population in this country. Because they have limited discretionary buying power, the internet will have a limited influence on these consumers. Newspapers are still an important factor in their lives.
However, the newspaper industry cannot deny the fact that the sales of many of the old stalwarts have stalled in recent years. The few titles that have shown growth are those which have popular appeal amongst the masses.
Generally speaking, the communications industry tends to think of the broadsheet dailies when newspapers are discussed.
The tabloids tend to be ignored. This is, of course, a case of evaluating the medium through the wrong end of the telescope. It is not the paper format that matters, it is the content. And any medium that publishes local, national and international news is a newspaper. The genre therefore includes dailies, weeklies, weekend newspapers, community newspapers and free-sheet titles.
Calculated on a single-issue distribution, in combination, these newspapers sell/distribute close to 11-million copies per issue. This is huge when it is considered that the adult population of South Africa is 31.3-million. Newspapers are, therefore, still a major medium in South Africa.
The value of the newspaper to consumers is simply that it is the only medium that publishes local, national and international news in one package. It also provides marketers with high, in-depth coverage on a local-area basis. It is for this reason that the medium remains the favourite choice of local retailers and national retail chains.
Retailers are at the rock face of consumer buying behaviour. While consumers are aware of where individual retailers are situated, and don’t have to be reminded, the battle for their disposable rand is where the action takes place. In terms of the return on their advertising spend, no competitive medium generates a higher return on investment than a newspaper. The measurement is feet through the door and sales volume, and this happens when they advertise.
The local scene
Needless to say, each newspaper attracts a specific type and class of consumer. The choice of title and type therefore depends on how well the audience matches the brand’s customer profile.
Most newspapers tend to have mass appeal because of their editorial content. However, there are newspapers that carry editorial appealing to niche consumer groups. A careful study of their editorial should be mandatory.
The major urban dailies show no growth. Approximately 1.8-million copies are sold daily. The Daily Sun, appealing to lower LSM consumers, is the major title in this category, with a circulation of 488,718, followed by The Star (164,298), Sowetan (130,248) and Son (104,162).
The only vernacular daily is the Zulu title Isolezwe, which has a circulation of 97,785.
The largest seller in this category is Soccer Laduma (332,987), followed by ILANGA (102,437). With the exception of ILANGA, sales are static.
Total sales of all weeklies are 692,981.
• Weekend newspapers
There is no shift in sales. This genre is dominated by the Sunday Times (504,074), followed by Rapport (296,218), Sunday Sun (215,517), City Press (198,727) and ILANGA Langesonto (86,507).
Total sales in this category is 2.5-million.
• Community newspapers
There are 63 newspapers in this category, with a total weekly circulation of 482,302. Circulation for each title averages about 7,600.
• Hybrid newspaper
The Times is the only national free daily newspaper, with a free circulation of 134,768 and a total paid circulation of 4,369. It was launched as an incentive for people to subscribe to the Sunday Times. Subscribers get the paper for free.
• Free newspapers
The dominant newspaper genre is without a doubt the free sheets. Currently there are 103 titles. Close to 5.1-million copies are distributed weekly. This category is shared between the three major publishing companies: Media24, Caxton, and Independent Newspapers.
These titles saturate the suburbs in which they are distributed and focus their editorial on providing residents with in-depth news on what is happening locally.
This medium is the favourite advertising choice of national, as well as local retailers.
The free-sheet titles were originally confi ned to upper- LSM households, but as the townships have developed into conventional suburbs with their own shopping malls, the major publishers have launched titles in townships in the catchment area of these malls.
The free sheets are the most active newspaper product in publishing. As the population continues to move from the rural areas to the cities, they will continue to grow in number.
This media type is basically ignored by national brand marketers who prefer to use national media as a matter of choice – television, magazines and so forth. However, as competition gets tougher, the free sheets offer significant tactical value.
Marketers and the agency partners continue to turn a blind eye to the realities of South African society. The land mass of this country is huge and spread over an area encompassing different climatic conditions. In addition, economically, the country is divided into nine provinces, each with its own regional government infrastructure. The economy of these provinces varies from the highly developed and rich Gauteng to the less fortunate Free State.
The size of the economy and the local climatic condition have a huge impact on the lifestyle of consumers who reside in these provinces. What they buy depends on their social milieu.
Evidence of this can easily be established by looking at the Nielsen Retail Index, which analyses retail sales by province in terms of product type, brand and size. There are huge anomalies between one province and another. Marketers who base their brand promotion on the onesize- fits-all marketing approach eventually create opportunities for local entrepreneurs to establish pockets of local flavour.
Regional newspapers are the ideal vehicles to build relationships with the locals who are their customers. Going forward, communicating brand values and building relationships are going to require a combination of national and local media. Newspapers, which are the favourite choice of retailers, offer the ideal opportunity to work in harmony with the broad national media. Marketers need to think and operate out of the box if they want to win the market-share and sales battle.
John Farquhar is editor-at-large of Wag the Dog.
- This article first appeared in The Media magazine’s newspaper collection (February 2009)