Gordon Patterson analyses the ABCs the very interesting period in print media that was impacted by the death of Nelson Mandela.
A lot has happened not only locally, but internationally, since Don McLean wrote and performed the now classic song ‘American Pie’ in 1971. It was an iconic song for an iconic period. It refers to the day when three rock legends died, namely Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper JP Richardson. The world, and music in particular, would never be the same. The loss was expressed in lyrics and music, the most powerful connector of human emotion at the time.
So, what’s the relevance?
There are two reasons: firstly, on 5 December last year we experienced a similar loss in South Africa, the passing of former president Nelson Mandela, an iconic man for an iconic period. His presence and influence was life-changing to all he met. We changed, our county transformed and the world would never be the same again.
When the news reached us, we all embraced the media. Yes, we embraced all media in an attempt to connect emotionally with the drama unfolding. But one medium that the public immediately reached out to for comfort and understanding was the press. Funny that! Even with all the experts and communication industry prophets of doom and gloom and predictions of print dying in a digital wasteland, the public reached out to their press and bought a variety of newspapers repeatedly. Now I’m not saying that digital did not also benefit, but if digital could satisfy all the public’s needs, then print circulations would not have jumped as they did.
Good journalism, well written and relevant to the needs of the reader, still has a powerful attraction.
We should not forget this.
The appetite for good journalism was also seen in the United Kingdom’s circulation results for January when ‘popular’ newspapers (tabloids, page-three girls and all) continued to struggle in terms of circulation, but broadsheet newspapers with quality reputations grew.
Before I review some of the changes coming through from the latest local ABC results, let me touch on the second significant development that took place during the fourth quarter last year.
It seems that the penny may have dropped in the UK’s magazine industry regarding the transition between print and digital magazine delivery. It appears that way beyond the business class lounge, magazine readers and their advertisers don’t have much appetitie for digital delivery. What is becoming increasingly clear is that even in those sectors with strong digital migration (male and technology sector mags), the advertising investment has not followed. This is a sobering thought.
As for 2013 fourth quarter circulation performance highlights, dailies did well.
We saw an increase of some 149 000 additional copies compared to the third quarter in 2013. This increase was mainly driven by the reclassification of The Times into the daily newspaper category, but also the spike in sales around Mandela’s death. Unfortunately, specific figures for the days around his death are not available because the figures are not audited daily. But insiders say they’ve never experienced such growth before.
Given the recent trend, any growth should be welcomed. Compared to the fourth quarter 2013, we saw a 7% jump in category circulation. But, compared to this figure in the fourth quarter in 2007, the category lost some 23%.
In terms of composition, the daily newspaper category has switched to target individual subscribers. Within a year, the sales contribution has jumped from 11% to 15%. Individual copy sales have dropped and now account for 76% of sales.
But daily newspaper tracking would not be as interesting if it were not for the ‘creativity’ of publishers. The distribution via unpopular third party bulk has dropped by a welcome 22% year-on-year (1 803 copies) but we’ve seen a switch to print media in education (PMIE) categorisation. (This is an initiative among publishers to provide schools with newspapers, as long as certain criteria are met.) PMIE has jumped 1 390 copies (+59%). Strategy or co-incidence? You be the judge.
In terms of weekly newspapers, the most significant development has to be the Mail & Guardian recording a whopping 22% growth in the third quarter of 2013 and up 5% year-on-year. This amazing performance confirms the British trend for quality investigative journalism.
There has been consistency in how weekend newspapers have faired since 2007, down 21% since then in terms of total circulation. That said, an analysis of the recent distribution strategy is distinctly different to their daily siblings.
To offset an 8% drop in weekend copy sales year-on-year, we see a focus on travel and commercial distribution (airports etc), which has grown 43%. Interestingly, business subscriptions have fallen almost 15%.
Furthermore, the unpopular third party bulk distribution fell 37% year on year and PMIE distribution dropped 96%. I believe that both of these decreases are linked to the poor economy.
While the Sunday Times remains the largest circulating weekend title, the contribution of single copy sales has increased from approximately 55% to 60% even though the total circulation has dropped 8% year-on-year. This refocus is driven by economic pressures and a desire by their team to increase efficiency. Naturally, advertisers should welcome this trend.
Free newspaper circulations continue to climb, driven partly by new entrants but also by growth from existing titles. Specifically the Northern Eyethu, up 256% year-on-year, and Midvaal Ster, up 63%.
In terms of magazine category performance, there is little to be happy about. The initial signs of recovery (slowing decline) expressed last year have been all but wiped off the results.
Circulation declined annually by 2% (568 000 copies) over the period, although performance over the past year has been particularly disappointing, declining by 8.5% (552 000 copies).
It’s obviously not possible to examine all the categories within this article, but I would like to single out a few ongoing battles and provide an update.
In the business/news category the longstanding battle between Financial Mail and Finweek continues, although the Financial Mail has reported a stable (-1.9%) result while Finweek plummeted 43%.
Further, Noseweek reports the largest single copy sales in this category and, to put this in perspective, its single copy sales result is three times greater than Financial Mail. Noseweek also has the highest digital sales at about 1 900.
In the family interest category, the declines are generally less than 2%, except for Bona, which dropped 16%.
The male Interest category took a real beating, as can be seen below.
Stuff, Men’s Health and FHM dropped significantly and one wonders if greater effort should be invested by these titles in developing a stronger digital following – as has been the case elsewhere in the world.
Destiny Man and Braintainment are the only titles growing. Popular Mechanics is stable, reporting a slight drop.
The battle in the outdoor travel category between Getaway and Weg/Go continues and, while both have declined, the Getaway loss is greater and Weg/Go remains significantly larger.
A similar battle continues in the female interest category between rivals rooi rose and SARIE. Both titles are now delivering similar circulations although rooi rose has lost 13% in circulation. Could SARIE be larger at the next reporting session? SARIE has significantly more digital subscriptions sales and, unlike rooi rose, does not report third party bulk and distribution below 50% of the cover price nor the sale of back issues.
The popular Move! magazine grew a further 15% and has reinforced its position as the largest circulating title in this hotly contended category.
The end of 2013 was clearly an interesting period in print circulation. It confirmed the relationship that still exists between reader and daily newspaper. International insights are questioning the impact of digital offerings, but numerically from a revenue perspective.
And now with the first quarter behind us we should have a clearer view of 2014 and the impact of the local economy and the elections. [The ABCs for the first quarter of 2014 will be released on Wednesday, 14 May.]
This story was first published in the April 2014 issue of The Media magazine.
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