So what is happening with newspapers on the Western Cape front? This week, Media24 announced that Kaap-Rapport would publish for the last time on Sunday. Glenda Nevill finds out in a story first published in The Media magazine.
The Naspers building, home to Media24, looms over the Cape Town’s foreshore. Its recent facelift has given it a clean visage. Inside, is a media company that looks forward, that has embraced the digital age, that is marching ahead with new apps, new titles, new media and significant investment. And shedding of titles that simply don’t make the cut any longer.
In the centre of the city is Newspaper House, a venerable old building that has stood in St George’s Mall since 1936 and has housed a printing press and newspapers for 154 years. It is home to Independent Newspapers, proprietors of the Cape Argus, the Weekend Argus, Cape Times and the Daily Voice as well as a host of community newspapers.
Sadly, the printing press is gone. The smell of ink is growing fainter as each day passes. The building that has seen South Africa’s history unfold through the pages of its newspapers and with its prime position so close to Parliament is on the market.
What Media24 and Independent Newspapers have in common is the fact that circulation of their broadsheet titles is declining and readership and circulation of their tabloids – Independent’s Daily Voice and Media24’s Son – is more positive. But both are optimistic that regional papers will ride out the economic recession.
Bryan Gibson, managing director of Thirdwave Media, says readerships of Western Cape papers have all dropped if you compare the 2008 to the 2010 July-Dec survey, “The exceptions are Daily Voice and Son, which tells you something about what the public wants. In fact, Son has by far the biggest readership in the Western Cape, reaching 26% of the 15+ population – Daily Voice follows with 15%,” Gibson says.
“The weekend papers – Burger Saterdag and Weekend Argus – have had dramatic readership drops – Weekend Argus down from 14% to 8% and Burger Saterdag from 15% to 3%. However, this is not reflected in their ABC figures, as Weekend Argus dropped 11% from Q1 2010 to Q1 2011 and Burger Saterdag dropped only 2%. I tend to believe the ABC’s,” he said.
Chris Whitfield, Independent Newspapers’ editor in chief at the Argus and the Cape Times, says the outlook is not as bleak as it looks. “Printing has been outsourced but the editorial side has been lightly affected in the Western Cape. We only lost three people, and are reasonably resourced,” he said.
Whitfield says e-editions for the two papers are a “relatively new thing” and that “lots of stuff was on the cards”. He believes the Cape Times has much “potential to develop” and that they were looking to expand the title to the Southern Cape. “We’re quite optimistic,” he says.
Admittedly, the Argus has “dipped”. “We’re undergoing a complete review of the Argus. Its cover price, the format, everything,” said Whitfield. But, he added, sales of the Weekend Argus are growing week-on-week, particularly the Sunday edition which is on an “upward trajectory”.
Back at Media24, CEO of newspapers, Abraham van Zyl, said Media 24’s main challenge was to “stimulate core circulation growth”.
“Although we experienced some problems over the last year with the implementation of our new ERP system, we stuck to our strategy to limit bulk sales and PMIE deals. Our core circulation therefore remains healthy. Our competitors have their own strategies,” said Van Zyl.
Van Zyl pointed out that English dailies continue to decline, while Afrikaans and vernacular titles remain relatively stable. “Afrikaans has experienced a remarkable upsurge in South Africa in recent years, with new music artists and groups making their appearance and many new publications being launched. Afrikaans people are proud of their language, and choose to be loyal to publications in their home language. They are avid readers of Afrikaans publications,” he said.
Andrew Koopman, editor-in-chief of Son and Son op Sondag said the tabloid newspaper market in the Western Cape “is a healthy one – for Son and Son op Sondag certainly, particularly with regard to readership.”
“We have shown good growth since we consolidated the various Son titles into a single one a few years ago and started to distribute only in the Western and Eastern Cape. And there is room for more growth. On the advertising front Son is making major strides with more well-known, established national brands advertising their products in Son,” Koopman said.
Although the Western Cape is looking a little sorry for itself, this is not putting off new kid on the block, The New Age. CEO Nazeem Howa said the Western Cape is the second most important growth area after Gauteng. They’re using a multi-pronged distribution strategy, and have gone on a major campaign to market the title in the Cape. Although The New Age doesn’t yet have ABC certification, this is on the cards. “We will form part of the next AMPS survey, so we look forward to the results there.”
Howa said there was a “defined strategy in place, which we cannot share right now, but it will involve deepening our penetration through our changed content for our newspaper with an increased number of change pages. A major initiative will be to broaden the local content spread for the Cape Town market”.
Koopman said “Things are looking up from a national perspective though and that compensates for the loss in retail advertising revenue. I am confident that we will weather this storm and come out stronger on the other side.”
But Howa is concerned by the current sales trends for mid-market papers. “A shakeup is required in our industry to ensure the survival of print. Of particularly concern should be the aging readership of metropolitan titles and the need for content changes to bring in younger audience.”
Van Zyl is optimistic. “Reports on the death of the printed media is highly exaggerated. The reverberations that the News of the World drama caused around the world – and is still causing – are significant,” he said. “The News of the World debacle is a seismic event in the annals of the media. And it’s all about the trials and tribulations of newspapers – not about the internet or any other type of media. It might be true that the industry is declining, but it is clear that newspapers will still matter for many years to come.”
Western Cape newspapers – in numbers (ABC January – March 2011)
Die Burger: Circulation 58 404. Corresponding previous period: 61 756
Die Burger (Saterdag): Circulation 79 439. Previous corresponding period: 80 854
Cape Argus: Circulation 46 904. Corresponding previous period 56 455
Cape Times: Circulation 46 148. Corresponding previous period 47 631
Weekend Argus (Sat): Circulation 49 357. Corresponding previous period 52 815
Weekend Argus (Sun): Circulation 26 513. Previous corresponding period: 32 580
Son: Circulation 108 987. Previous corresponding period 21 599
Daily Voice: Circulation is not ABC certified in latest tables. www.theinc.co.za puts readership at 585 000.