The latest ABCs are out and Gordon Patterson has been studying the figures, among other information, to see what they tell him about the status of the print industry.
Yes it’s bad, but it’s not all bad news. Looking to the United States where print is being hardest hit, the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) recently repositioned itself after 100 years. This is a good sign.
The organisation will now assume the new name of the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM).
AAM president and managing director Michael Lavery said, “With advancements in the media industry and the progress our organisation has made in developing new digital audit services and cross-media expertise, we felt it was time to refresh our brand to better reflect our strategic role in the new media world.”
That doesn’t sound like someone talking about a dying industry. Neither does the website, www.printisbig.com. It contains a collection of facts on the print industry that demonstrate how it is thriving, green and driving commerce.
The latest year-on-year update for the period January to September 2012 shows that cinema continues to have the highest rate of inflation and television is becoming relatively more affordable than other media (online data is not credible). The Media Inflation Watch (MIW) result for TV is four percent versus all media at seven percent inflation.
Print records the highest MIW inflation at 12.3% and within this, daily newspapers are recording MIW inflation at 16.6%.
Retail sales increased by 8.6% in the third quarter to October 2012, compared to October 2011, with the largest increases reflecting in food, beverage and tobacco. GDP increased by 2.3% quarter on quarter with the largest increases coming from the wholesale, retail and motor trade.
Compared to the previous quarter, total newspaper circulations declined by 144 000 copies. Breaking it up further, over the past four years daily newspapers have declined annually by 5.7% since 2008, equivalent to 411 000 copies.
English titles have declined by 6.5% annually (349 000 copies) over the period, with Afrikaans titles faring slightly better with a decline of 4.9% or 70 000 copies and vernacular titles increasing their circulation by two percent or 9 000 copies annually.
Daily titles showing the largest growth are Isolezwe, The Herald and the Diamond Fields Advertiser, while conversely the worst performers are The Cape Argus, The Star, The Cape Times and The Pretoria News.
Weekend newspapers have not repeated the brief recovery seen in the first quarter of 2012 and, like dailies, this category also now redefines new lows each quarter. Titles targeting a middle mass seem better protected from the declines.
Over the past four years, this category has declined annually by 3.5% (376 000 copies). English titles declined annually by 5.6% (442 000 copies) over the period and Afrikaans titles by 3.9% (99 000 copies). Vernacular titles on the other hand have grown annually by 33% (135 000 copies).
Local newspapers over the same period have declined by 2.2% (49 000 copies), while hybrid papers (free and sold) have increased annually by 3.8% (24 000 copies). Distribution of free newspapers over the past four years has increased annually by 7.4% (1 504 000 copies).
During this quarter, total magazines declined by 0.9% (187 000 copies) when compared to the previous quarter, with consumer magazines decreasing by 2.2% (146 000 copies) over the same period.
Across all categories, we see an overall decline, but as in previous reports, we still note strong individual title growth. A few that caught my eye include the new title Forbes Africa, which is up 21% and delivering a single copy sales result equal to many other established business titles.
Readers Digest has also increased 12%, House & Leisure +16%, Playboy +7%, Baba & Kleuter +13%, Living & Loving +38%, Sowetan Magazine +14%, Fairlady +17%, Good Housekeeping +18% and Keur + 61%.
Over the past four years circulation in this category in total has increased annually by 1.5% (417 000 copies) even though performance over the past two quarters has been disappointing.
Still in consumer magazines, the home category over the past four years has increased annually by 4.7% (128 000 copies). Sport and hobby magazines have increased by 2.8% annually (55 000 copies) and the travel category has shown great growth, increasing annual circulation by 11.9% (179 000 copies), although there was a considerable drop in the fourth quarter.
The women’s general category has fluctuated considerably. Circulation declined by 0.9% annually (63 000 copies) over the period, although increasing by 35 000 copies in the fourth quarter.
Business-to-business circulations generally remain stable over the past four years, but those magazines in the hospitality, catering and tourism categories declined annually by 6% (30 000 copies) and management magazines by 5.2% (64 000 copies). Custom magazines are bucking the downward trend, increasing their annual circulation by 2.4% (1 225 000 copies) over the last four years. Free magazines were another big loser, declining annually by 19.1%, over the same time.
In a nutshell
The static ABC membership position confirms the difficult trading environment for print in general. The reported 2.4% GDP growth for 2012 leaves a great deal to be desired. Increasing job insecurity and rising labour costs all drive the move to automation. From a consumer or reader perspective, this means tougher choices and potentially less support for titles that are not satisfying
From a currency perspective, we note and indeed welcome the growing debate around the All Media and Product Survey (AMPS) and the future-proofing initiative that is underway.
With most titles in decline it’s easy and indeed tempting to become depressed about print. But we should be celebrating the efforts of the minority that continue to do well, not moping over the decline and growing mediocrity.
That said, for most titles, the million-dollar questions are: When will the slide stop? And should publications change while still declining? The jury is out.