The Audit Bureau of Circulation’s membership continues to grow, even as figures for Q4 of 2011 showed the print medium in decline.
Chairperson, Gordon Utian, announced that as part of the increased focus on marketing the ABC, it would launch a ‘Plug & Play’ presentation that succinctly positions the ABC, explains the key terms and reveals the growing importance of the ABC in making informed placement decisions.
“Magazines aren’t as in as much pain as newspapers,” Utian said at a presentation in Cape Town on Thursday at which the latest numbers, trends and forecasts relating to South Africa’s print media sector were delivered. “I’m afraid once news became free online, it put it in people’s minds that it SHOULD be free,” he said.
Utian said the ABC had had a “very busy year. “I think the industry has been more appreciative and aware of what we do. We do need to do more in the area of digital.”
The AMPS, he said, were “a joke”.
“The AMPS are unreliable. The samples they use are too small. And the methodology adopted by SAARF isn’t working. The ABCs are the only reliable numbers out there.”
Utian said the ABC was redesigning its website too, with several user friendly tools to trend and compare titles. At the same time, they were exploring digital.
Third Wave Media’s Bryan Gibson gave the lowdown on the numbers. “The ABC is critical,” said Gibson, reiterating Utian’s point. “The industry really needs it. So it’s positive that membership is up.”
Gibson, who stood in for ABC vice president, Gordon Patterson, warned that it was clear that the print media was to face another “tough year”. “It’s a worry that consumer magazines are declining. And newspapers. That’s not good news. Look at The Star: 10 years ago, it sold 170 000. Now it’s on 52 000.
“But the fact that vernacular titles have grown 2.7 % is good news. The mass market will be the saviour of newspapers. Isolozwe is looking good and even though the Daily Sun is down, it’s still good,” Gibson said.
Talking about the weekly newspaper market, Gibson praised the Mail & Guardian which is up to 50 474. He said the weekend market wasn’t delivering much good news, with the exception of the Sunday Times, which was looking “very strong”. He questioned why Afrikaans weekend papers were declining “a lot”.
And he had high praise for Avusa’s hybrid newspaper, The Times, which he said had “found its niche”. The Times grew paid circulation significantly, both single copy sales (42%, 12 700 copies) and subscriptions (39%, 26 000 copies). Its total circulation now stands at 142 540.
Gibson bemoaned the decline in Noseweek’s circulation. “I was sorry to see it down. We need it more than ever. It’s very sad. Sign up and buy it,” he exhorted the audience. “We really need that magazine.” It dropped by 12.9% to 18 159.
Gibson quoted Patterson’s conclusions. He said “publisher intervention is required on a broad scale if a turnaround is to be achieved”.
“Ironically, as depressing as some of the results are, the fact remains that some publications are growing while many competing titles are declining. My own view is that with increased competition, content and consistency have become a key success factors…or not,” Patterson wrote.
“Consistent real circulation growth (core circulation) evident amongst several vernacular titles provides some reassurance of the future (and relevance) of print in our market.”
Patterson said he’d noted, “Economic pressure has, for some titles, increased reliance on free or almost free distribution to prop up total circulation. This “deal driven” circulation has questionable value from a marketer perspective. Again the devil is in the detail”!
Picking up on that point, Gibson said media agencies were very good at finding the devil in the detail. “They’re not fooled. So keep it real!”
And as all agreed: “It’s time perhaps to again put the reader first and have confidence in the medium.”