Our country is developing very fast. In the short space of six years, between 2001 and 2007, the LSM profile of black South Africans changed completely. In 2001, the profile leaned heavily towards the lower LSM segment. Since then, the profile has shifted dramatically towards the middle LSM segments. The proportion of black people in LSM 1, for instance, declined sharply from 14 percent to 6 percent.
In contrast, the proportion in LSM 6 increased from 11 percent to 18 percent over the same period. The dramatic speed, size and direction of the changes, are largely attributable to the sweeping social, political and economic interventions of the past two decades. Despite the countless challenges that our young democracy faces, the upward and forward direction of the population profi le suggests that South Africans are generally more prosperous now than they were less than a decade ago.
The rising fortunes of the young tabloid press reflect the changing needs of a rapidly growing working class in search of information that is relevant and easily accessible. More than half of the daily and weekly newspaper readers in this country are tabloid readers. While some of the legacy papers are holding their own under strenuous market conditions, tabloids are bringing waves of new readers to the industry and presenting advertisers with new options to grow their businesses. The combined income of the 5-million strong Daily Sun readership base now totals R100-billion per annum. This kind of financial muscle spells opportunity for any business that hopes to be around in the next decade.
However, businesses (like the people who run them), are creatures of habit. They typically stick to the things that seem to work for them. It is therefore not surprising that the legacy media continue to dominate the advertising income stakes. The relatively small gathering of high-income earners at the top of the social tree are still the target of countless media hopefuls.
Yet savvy media strategists and marketing managers are discovering the growing class of consumers who read tabloids.
Apart from the relevant editorial mix, tabloids offer their readers companionship, understanding, guidance and validation.
The deep market penetration figures signal that readers enjoy the tabloids and value the attention. The strength of the tabloid brands indicates a relationship of trust, longevity and intrinsic value. This is not a passing fad.
Under increasingly uncertain economic circumstances some might find my views too optimistic or even slightly naïve. However, my optimism is fuelled by the resilience and resourcefulness of South Africans. We are familiar with hardship and often find creative ways to survive and even prosper under economic duress.
It is the same force of progress that propels millions of South Africans towards their favourite tabloids in search of relevant information that enables them to learn, know and make better choices. To the untrained or unwilling eye, the stories seem crude, sensational and unsophisticated. Some call it tasteless, while others question the credibility of the tabloid trade. But critics should look beyond these pages. Daily Sun, for example, has from the outset championed the cause of people to use their inventiveness to create their own jobs.
Opinions may vary, but even the worst critics concur that the tabloids have found common cause with the working-class masses. Their success has given the local newspaper industry a new lease on life.
Fergus Sampson is the CEO of emerging markets at Media24 Newspapers, which publishes titles including Daily Sun.
- This article first appeared in The Media magazine (March 2009).