Media pundits often accuse the print media industry of failing to look to the future, of neglecting to embrace the power of digital, and refusing to move on from what the perceive as out-dated business models.
No one can level this accusation at Business Day. Former editor and current publisher of BDFM, Peter Bruce, is steaming ahead with plans to kick the newspaper into the digital age without compromising the print edition.
Last year he announced that Business Day was to become a ‘digital first’ publication, and a new website, BDlive, was launched. Then, in December, staff was offered the option of taking voluntary retrenchment packages in an effort to cut costs.
Insiders said the fact that BDFM had absorbed staff from I-Net Bridge meant some jobs were doubled up, unnecessarily adding to costs. (The Times Media Group owns 83.3% of I-Net Bridge, and BDFM the remainder.)
Bruce confirmed with The Media Online “the uptake was about 32-33 people spread pretty evenly across the board. In addition we had around eight resignations prior to or immediately after the VSP so we have lost about 40 people”. These are substantial savings in anyone’s book.
“There’ll always be a need to be very careful with our funds but it does free us up to make some critical editorial appointments in print and digital,” he said.
While BDlive has impacted on digital delivery of news, advertising on the site doesn’t have the same poke as the print edition.
“The website has experienced tremendous growth in unique browsers from 241 000 a month (Effective Measure, July 2012) to 512 000 (Effective Measure, November 2012),” Bruce says.
“By comparison, newspaper circulation has remained static but solid after some years of gradual decline (Business Day’s print edition recorded a quarterly circulation of 35,828 in Q3 2012 according to the ABC).”
But, he says, despite offering advertising packages that encompass print and online, “digital is slow”.
Bruce recently took a decision to print Business Day in the Eastern Cape. He says the move was “partly to save the expense of flying the paper there from Johannesburg and partly because we have a natural readership in the area, from active businesses to retirees along the coast”.
Bruce is on an advertising drive. Last year’s decision by the JSE to discontinue making companies publish their financial results in newspapers has obviously hit South Africa’s business titles where it hurts. “The plans for financials are very advanced and too detailed to repeat here but I’m confident we are going to retain a lot of our clients even if the content of their financial advertising changes a lot,” he said.
The decision to turn Business Day from a broadsheet to a compact (tabloid) size newspaper is also advertising driven, he says. It is due to launch on 3 May, “if all goes well”.
“No, it won’t save money,” he says. “That was never the idea. Hopefully it will win us more sales and advertising revenues though.”