The Western Cape has always been South Africa’s magazine hub. But, as Tanya Farber discovers, this reign might not last that much longer, in a story first published in The Media magazine.
“If you want to fast-track your career as a newspaper journalist, Jozi is the place to be. If you’re only interested in glossy magazines, you can stay right where you are.”
So said a lecturer at a recent feature-writing course run in Cape Town by the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism.
For almost a century now, even as the footprint of glossy magazines produced in Johannesburg increased, Cape Town is still seen by many as the ‘magazine hub’ for those in the industry.
According to Professor Harry Dugmore, based at Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies, “The one theory is that the printing presses first came through Cape Town which is a port city. The media industry in general certainly took off in Cape Town first and magazines would have been a part of that.”
The question he raises, however, is why it has stayed that way when the country’s economic focus shifted to Johannesburg and at any rate, trains could easily have moved the printing presses many decades ago.
“In my opinion, it is not really around technology but around skills,” he says, “Everybody has been trying to replicate their own Silicone Valley for example, but without success. Once you get a foothold, the people with the skills tend to stay there, build networks, and send their children to school there, and so a tradition is built. It is much the same here with the magazine industry: the talent is still in Cape Town.”
Simultaneously, however, in today’s media landscape of telecommunications and virtual worlds, it has been necessary for Cape Town to make an effort to keep that foothold. Dugmore says: “The City of Cape Town works hard to place an emphasis on design, creativity and urban planning to keep it media-attractive and media-savvy.”
For Royston Lamond, CEO and co-founder of Cape Media, it is about Cape Town’s tradition of intellectual capital as forged by patterns of human migration.
“Historically, Cape Town is the intellectual side of the country,” he says, “and this came through the migrants in particular as Cape Town was the entry point. So, the whole media and communications industry first grew here.”
With the intellectual capital came technological know-how.
“A wave of Germans came through who knew about book-binding and printing, and that knowledge has stayed here – as has the machinery. So, it’s part of a tradition and has proliferated here.”
When asked if technological shifts or any other forces might change the status quo, he says, “No, high technology is all about the Cape. We’re not a mining centre. All we have is agriculture, insurance, and intellectual capital. That’s why some of the best innovation is down here. It’s a Cape speciality and the Western Cape government is always looking at ways to encourage this kind of intellectual business.”
Other industry players, however, feel that Cape Town’s stronghold on the magazine industry isn’t quite as powerful as it used to be.
Aspasia Karras [photographed here], the editor of Marie Claire (owned by Associated Magazines), says it is quite hard to tell anymore which city is the magazine hub. She lives in Johannesburg and was appointed there too, but commutes between the two cities in her professional role.
“I think the perception is that Cape Town is still the capital,” she says, “but Joburg is a big player too and you see movement in both directions. There has been a huge growth certainly in Media24 titles in Johannesburg, and all Caxton titles are all published here too.”
Karras says her appointment from Johannesburg also perhaps “reflects a need to bring new voices into the mix and certainly to reflect more of the Johannesburg market and energy.”
She has been commuting between the two for more than eighteen months now, and says: “I have to conclude that SA is definitely more than a tale of two cities, given the other regions which we ignore at our peril. There is an incredible diversity of opinion, style and emphasis; but still I think currently we almost have a West/East Coast dynamic happening so any publication would do well to reflect on both cities.”
According to Alex Knipe, head of editorial and production at Picasso Headline, Cape Town’s real place as a magazine hub is in the custom publishing market.
“Perhaps this is because most of the leading custom magazines were started by individuals with small companies rather than by corporate giants,” she says, “so if you were to choose anywhere to live in SA, and location was not integral to success, you would probably choose Cape Town.”
And, she points out, “Especially, when these companies started, Cape Town was seen as very trendy and cosmopolitan while Joburg had a rather dubious reputation.”
She says that consumer magazines that have always relied on cover sales have taken a dip in the recession era and that niche publications and business-to-business publications have suddenly found themselves in the spotlight.
“You suddenly find that these companies that were previously small (but very successful) are being bought over by the big publishing entities,” she says.
If this is the case, the location of those big publishing entities might prove a threat to Cape Town’s reign as the magazine hub. Touchline Media, for example, was bought out by Media24 which is headquartered in Cape Town, but if Johannesburg media giants make offers on smaller successful publishers currently in Cape Town, the epicentre could shift.
Jocelyn Warrington, features editor at New Media Publishing’s Taste magazine, says that Cape Town-based Media 24’s “current dominance of the market continues to entrench the Mother City as the country’s magazine capital”, but that “with the instalment of printers in other commercial centres, the situation has changed to a certain extent, with a number of large publishers operative in Joburg and Durban too.”
Like Knipe, she says that the major change of recent years has been the expansion of contract publishing, with newsstand titles increasingly taking a back seat to publications produced on behalf of business for marketing purposes.
“Contract magazine publishing companies like New Media Publishing and The Publishing Partnership have experienced a lot of growth of late, with traditional newsstand publishers like Associated Magazines also making significant in-roads into this sector.”
Only time will tell if these shifts in the landscape work in favour of Cape Town where many of the small publishing houses first opened shop, or if a buy-out culture sends more of the magazine capital up north to the City of Gold.
And of course, if hard copy magazines experience the inevitable death that media pundits overseas are predicting, that could also pose a serious threat to the Mother City’s long-standing reign.