Gordon Patterson looks at weekly newspapers from a media agency perspective.
Circulation remains the truest measure of market support and, for this reason, it is important to see the future from the perspective of market forces, past and present.
The recent ABC release showed two major trends:
- vernacular language titles are growing; and
- readers want flexibility to choose, as individual subscriptions decline.
These trends could be indicative of the socio-economic divide between economies and reflective of the transition between First and Third worlds. Could trust – both positive and negative – be at the heart of the issue? It’s tempting to comment, but I’ll leave that to the reader.
Category-wise, the weekly newspapers are certainly performing better than the Sunday market.
Year on year, the weekend category dropped a further 4.4%. While this may not seem significant, it’s worth pointing out that we’re talking about a collective loss of almost 100 000 copies on average per weekend. To put this into perspective, it is like 2.7 business days closing every week!
Given that we have an increasingly literate society and that our population is growing, any decline should be viewed seriously. These losses could be as a result of the declining economy and cash-strapped consumers – but then there would have been an increase in purchases of the Sunday Times as a result of its Pick n Pay (PnP) R1 per copy initiative. For those not in the know, PnP was giving R15 (of the R16) to customers who bought the Sunday Times at one of their outlets.
So who is winning and why? In the weekly category, it’s a two-man performance. Ilanga and Mail & Guardian. Soccer Laduma technically forms part of this category, but I don’t really feel it belongs – so I’ve ignored it, despite its impressive 19% growth year on year.
|Ranking||Publication name||Copy sales >50%* 2011||% change on prior year|
|3||Mail & Guardian||37 407||8.61%|
* sales at less than 50% of the cover price
Looking at Ilanga, I believe that its traditional and consistent perspective is attractive to readers. The language and editorial credibility not only builds trust, but a relationship beyond merely disseminating news. The 34% growth in single copy sales is irrefutable proof of its popularity.
Mail & Guardian is an intelligent and thought-provoking read and, while its growth is more conservative, it nevertheless proves that quality journalism, even in English, will attract support – and not just digitally, but in traditional print.
The weekend titles reflect a more sombre performance, as only four titles grew while 19 were either static or declined. Within the four that grew, again Ilanga Langesonto soared ahead, with over 10% growth.
|Ranking||Publication name||Copy sales >50% – 2011||% change on prior year|
|2||Sunday Sun||226 504||-1.68%|
|4||City Press||148 047||-10.62%|
|5||Sunday World||131 445||-6.72%|
|6||Ilanga Langesonto||87 416||10.98%|
I don’t have a definitive answer, but it’s not only financial, I suspect. Value – in other words, what you get for your money – could be part of it, and this brings me onto the advertising perspective.
Media agencies are generally struggling to motivate to clients why they should pay more for less (real circulation) within a bulkier product with more clutter. What’s evident is that the big weekend titles are offering diminishing returns in an increasingly competitive environment. No wonder real advertising income for many titles is stressed.
From an agency perspective, the best way to obtain advertising support is to aggressively promote the benefits. To accomplish this, media owners need to arm their sales staff with information, competitive knowledge, promote innovation (and be willing to accept it) and, last but not least, to sell. Selling has largely become a lost art in the newspaper industry.
In conclusion, all newspaper categories remain under pressure as lifestyles change, habits evolve and as competition (technology and other platforms) intensifies. To survive and indeed to prosper requires publishers to invest in themselves and to strengthen their reader relationships by being attentive, truthful, concerned and relevant.
Once achieved, circulation will grow and advertising support will increase – but without this investment, and no matter how ‘creative’ the circulation accounting becomes, advertising income will decline.