Judging by the performance of their titles over the past two years, publishers are still experiencing heavy weather as consumers continue to shift their alliance to the Internet. In order to keep the current readers on board, publishers made the cardinal error of launching websites and reproducing their titles in digital format with free access. This strategy has exacerbated rather than solved their problem.
Readers soon got used to gratis reading of their favourite publication in digital format. Hard copy sales therefore continued to slide. The London ‘Times’ response to this problem was to erect a paywall. This hasn’t worked. Once consumers get used to getting something for nothing, it is extremely difficult to get them to pay. In modern marketing, this is known as the ‘Freemium response.’
They don’t see why they should pay. Once paid for brands go down this route, they write their own obituary. The London Times continues to lose copy sales and advertising revenue.
South African print titles face a similar downward trend in sales. Mass media hard copy print titles in the next 10 years will eventually become an anachronism, a reminder of the leisurely world of the past, when there was time to slowly indulge and enjoy life. Hard copy format will be the choice of expensive specialist titles.
Mass market publishers, once they have found the right pay model, will be selling their titles via the reading tablet. When Apple and Amazon launched their tablet, they changed the economics of the publishing industry.
The first models were primitive, but the ingenuity of Apple’s technical expertise has turned its iPad into a must have reading device. The introduction of the ‘App’ options enabled consumers to download 12 novels into a lightweight slim sleeve pack weighing less than one book.
Specialist magazines will follow. The magazine Popular Mechanics has just signed a deal with Apple where they will take 30% of the cover price, and look after renewals. This deal saves the publisher distribution costs. Hard copy distribution takes 50% paper, printing costs etc.
It is a win-win deal for Apple and Popular Mechanics. The subscriber wins because digital allows for live-action visuals, and access to the Popular Mechanics archives.
Where to now South Africa?
South Africa is still way behind this change in publishing. Books and specialist titles, delivered in tablet format, will become the choice of its middleclass and higher income readers.
Currently, Independent Newspapers is offering a value package of free magazines as an incentive to subscribe to The Star, Monday to Friday, at a cost of R109.96 a month.
The free package consists of titles aimed at the middle and upper classes i.e.
Creating Country Threads, The Fishing and Hunting Journal, Motor Sport, Literary Review, Conde Nast Traveller, PC Pilot, What Camera, Focus, Birds & Birding. Handmade, Africa Geographic, and Scrapbooking.
These 13 titles cost approximately R500 to buy. The anomaly? The average Star reader is an LSM 6 to 8 person. These books are probably way above their field of interest. Any bets on what this offer will add to The Star’s current paid circulation of 133 000. ? All the ‘free’ titles, incidentally are from unsold stock.