Running contrary to world trends, where print media, particularly newspapers, are battling to attract circulation and advertising revenue, the Durban based Gupta group announced that it was launching a pro-government national daily newspaper, the New Age, with content that would give South Africans (or ANC members?) in all nine provinces, a true, and unbiased overview of events in the country.
The publishers implied that newspaper titles currently on sale were biased in their reporting, a view held by the ruling party.
Marketers, and advertising agencies were flabbergasted at the news that another daily newspaper was being launched at a time when the world was battling to recover from the worst recession of the past 80 years, and when advertisers were cutting back on advertising expenditure. In their opinion there was no gap in the market for another daily newspaper.
The initial launch date was supposed to be late 2010, but the resignation of its first editor, as well as senior editorial staff, threw a spanner in the works. As a result, the first edition only hit the streets in January 2011.
The publishers promised sales of 170 000, daily, and confirmed that the newspaper would be printed in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban and distributed from the administrative hubs in these cities.
The scope of the operation is such that in order to achieve its stated objective will have establish editorial and administrative offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, as well as a stringer network in six provinces.
Another cause of concern is the publishing model. The primary supporters of newspapers are the national retail chains, and local advertisers. The prices quoted in their advertising are specific to the trading area in which each branch operates. A national daily is therefore not an appropriate medium for them.
The publisher’s plan to achieve sales of 170 000 a day. This will never happen. The Johannesburg daily, The Star, with a 100 year plus history, can only manage copy sales of 74 836 daily.
An examination of the past week’s issues shows very little advertising support. As expected the few advertisers that have placed, friends of the government, the Gupta Group, Sahara, parastatals, Eskom, mining companies and Lazarus Zim’s Shiva Uranium, which is appearing daily. (Freebies?)
None of the consumer goods brands are present. But this to be expected as marketers and their advertising agencies have obviously adopted a wait and see attitude.
Good newspaper talent in South Africa is scarcer that hens’ teeth, today. It shows in the content of the issues published, so far. There is nothing extraordinary. Articles do not offer any new insight in respect of articles already published by other major newspapers.
What is very evident is the choice of articles, the use of long copy, oversize illustrations, and photographs.
Considering that the audience the paper is aiming to attract ANC members, most of who fall into the LSM 1 to 8 social ranking, the cultural pages seem rather out of place when measured against this scale. One can only assume it is there to appease members of parliament.
The newspaper has failed to deliver the promised content for ANC members in the provinces. What has been published to date is skimpy and inconsequential. The coverage of sport, particularly soccer, as the national sport of this country is weak.
Where the New Age team has failed miserably, is its promise to the nation on daily availability. During its first two weeks of publishing it was a battle to find and buy a copy.
When it made this promise, the New Age management obviously did not comprehend how difficult it would be to establish a smooth running distribution network, and how costly it would be.
An example: It is assumed that the 32 page newspaper covering national, provincial news, and international news will be available in all provinces on a daily basis.
The most sparsely populated province in this country is the Northern Cape.
According to census estimates, the province has an all races adult population of 770 000 scattered over an area larger than the United Kingdom. Its working population is about 300 000, of which 200 000 have an education above matric. The common language is Afrikaans, not English.
Of these, 2.3% are literate in English, 61% in Afrikaans and 31% in Tswana. Approximately 200 000 earn an annual income above R4 000. Considering that the newspaper is published in English, delivery to its main dorp, Upington, where Afrikaans is the main language, distribution doesn’t make sense.
The Gupta clan are reputedly millionaires, and therefore astute businessmen. There is no economic rationale that will support the idea of running copies of the newspaper, on a daily basis from Cape Town to Upington.
The publishers face a similar problem distributing copies to other outlying provinces. Besides the fact that distribution on a daily basis will cost millions, who is going to do it? The publishers do not have a distribution network of their own. They have will have to use an outside contractor.
Of the existing big players, in this field of operation: Allied, Media 24, and RNA, it is doubtful if any of them will handle the task. The publishers therefore have a huge problem on their hands. How to build a Cafe and vendor network that encompasses all the provinces.
The prognosis? Distribution will be confined to the main printing hubs where the strength of the ANC is. Circulation will therefore be far less than the 170 000 stated in the launch announcement.
Will the New Age join the ABC, and will AMPS measure its readership? The marketing and advertising industry will have to wait until the end of 2011 to find out.
It is unlikely that traditional brand advertisers will provide advertising in the short and long term. The publishers therefore will have to seek advertising support from government departments, (taxpayers money)
Governments are measured by their deeds. A single newspaper with a small circulation, linked to government, will not earn them brownie points. When they perform badly they must expect flak from the media.