THE MEDIA YEARBOOK: Consumer magazine circulation is still in trouble if Audit Bureau of Circulations of South Africa (ABC) statistics for the third quarter of 2014 are anything to go by. The Media reports.
Total circulation has fallen from 6 010 568 to 5 766 119 in the corresponding reporting period and decreased by 3% (176 000 copies) compared to the previous quarter.
Single copy figures from sales newsstands were down to 3 711 874 compared to 3 859 455 in the previous quarter, while total paid stand (including subscription numbers) fell to 4 454 692 from 4 722 323 in the previous quarter.
Media24 has revisited how it counts digital copy sales that are part of bundled subscription offerings, such as Kaboedel.co.za or The Bundle.co.za. Rate card numbers of titles in these package deals were previously skewed because the company reported sales of all titles in the bundles instead of only the ones downloaded.
With this in mind, The Media took a closer look at the circulation of individual titles for the third quarter
of 2014 compared to the corresponding period in 2013.
Some of the highest climbers were Destiny Man (+20%), Braintainment (+17%), Modern Athlete (+37.9%), Essentials (+12%), rooi rose (+8.3%), SA Home Owner (+7%) and Habitat (+5.6%).
The titles that took the biggest knock were Tech-Smart Magazine (-62.78%), Today’s Child (-50.24%), All About Dogs Magazine (-48.12%) and HQ Pony (-43.55%).
The ‘home’category grew by 31 000 copies. The ‘sport and hobby’ category dropped by 26 000 copies compared to the second quarter. Travel magazines increased by 30.1% (316 000 copies) though this was the result of biennial reporting titles. Quarter three, however, declined by 29 000 copies in comparison to quarter two. The ‘women’s general’ category fell by 3.8% (257 000 copies), partly because O, the Oprah magazine, was discontinued.
Magazines that folded in 2014 include FHM, Rolling Stone, Succeed Magazine and PC Format. New titles entering the market were Media24’s women’s interest magazine mine! and its Banting diet magazine, Lose It!, as well as Bespoke Media’s Crossfit title, The Box.
Post Office meltdown hits magazine publishers
The ABC has not offered relief to magazine publishers affected by the ongoing South African Post Office (Sapo) strike, says Gordon Patterson, ABC’s vice chairman. “If your business is at risk due to a third party supplier or a third party issue, you find a solution. You can’t expect artificial relief because that’s not in the interest of those publications that have made another plan,” he explains.
General manager of Caxton Magazines, Anton Botes, says, “Unfortunately the magazine is paying the price as the subscriber is looking at the brand and asking questions about non-delivery.”
The company is “definitely considering various other options for distribution, not only as a short-term solution but one that will be sustainable in the long run”, he says.
The strike has prompted a group of 10 specialist magazine publisher to lay a complaint with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) over what they say is a breach of Sapo’s licence conditions. The group also issued a tender for the distribution of about 40 titles through alternative methods of delivery.
Advertisers and readers have been understanding of the situation, but publishers cannot rely on this goodwill lasting, publishing director of Interact Media Defined, Rory Macnamara told The Media Online. Hand deliveries are being done where possible, he says, and readers are encouraged to make use of digital publications that have been put online.
Wag the Dog Publishing, publisher of The Media and The Media Online has shifted to a hand-delivery model, which could end up being cheaper if properly planned.
Wag the Dog’s Sandra Gordon believes the demise of the industry body, the Magazine Publishers Association of South Africa (Mpasa), has exacerbated the crisis, but says there is “talk of resurrecting the old Specialist Publishers Association” to lobby for the interests of business-to-business (B2B) publishers.
B2B and custom magazines decline
The ABC reveals that circulation for B2B titles declined annually by 1.4% (72 000 copies), but declined by 40 000 when compared to the previous quarter. The circulation of custom magazines also weakened by 2.8% annually (1 513 000 copies) and by 362 000 copies compared to quarter two.
One of the companies that does seem to be getting custom publishing, or content marketing, right is New Media Publishing. In 2014 the company took home four accolades at the Pearl Awards in New York. It won a gold and bronze award for Siyasiza, a magazine produced on behalf of FNB; a bronze for the Woolworths TASTE magazine, and a bronze for TASTE in the ‘Best Cover – Business to Consumer’ category.
New Media Publishing content director Adelle Horler says content marketing has been redefined by three recent broad trends. The first is that it has become more credible. “There is so much noise out there, especially online. People trust something when it is branded.” She uses recipes on Woolworths’ site as an example. People are more likely to use them as opposed to an arbitrary recipe they find online because of the weight the retailer’s name carries.
Content marketers have also had to become more creative because they are competing with consumer magazines for readers. Because custom magazines are seen as second to consumer titles, they have to push boundaries when producing content, says Horler.
This ties in with the third trend. While content marketing was previously limited to only physical magazines, it has shifted to encompass a broad range of digital channels like mobile apps and websites. “Everyone wants content,” says Horler. “And the more content is available to them, the more they will engage with the brand.”
Digital magazines: the way forward?
Consumer magazines have also had to tackle the question of how they are adapting to the digital era.
For most magazine publishers, this means transferring the printed magazine online as a PDF replica. The ABC reports that paid-for replica PDF copies (digital copy sales at 50% below the cover price) account for 79 910 copies for the third quarter of 2014, down from 80 561 in the second and 89 144 in the first.
How publishers are delivering this option to audiences is where some experimentation in the market has occurred. Media24, for example, in April 2013 launched Kaboedel/The Bundle, which offers access to the PDF replicas of 14 Afrikaans titles and 22 English titles at a fixed monthly subscription rate.
Charlene Beukes, general manager of Media24 Lifestyle (formerly known as Media24 Magazines), says that based on April-June ABC figures, digital copy sales represented only 1.5% of total paid for circulation for the company’s magazines. This, she said, is on par with the 1.7% for the industry at large.
Beukes says there have been very few challenges to implementing the bundle arrangement option. “Besides offering readers a really good deal, we have found that there has been a pick-up on titles a subscriber might not have read otherwise. This discovery then leads to them trawling the archives for previous issues and/or continuing to broaden their reading portfolio,” she says.
Botes says the local magazine market, like its international counterparts, is not seeing enough growth in digital magazines to indicate that it could replace print in the future. Caxton digital titles, he says, contribute 1.5% of total circulation where most mature markets have an average of 2% with little growth. Despite this, Botes says Caxton is exploring print-digital magazine models through the use of mobile devices. Unable to disclose exact details about a product in development, he did say that in the first quarter of 2015 Caxton would be launching a digital magazine app that comes with one of South Africa’s leading cellular phone providers. “It will put us in the hands of more consumers than ever before,” says Botes.
But The MediaShop’s group managing director Chris Botha believes that simply putting a PDF version of a magazine online has been an “out and out failure” and that publishers are merely “putting a plaster on an old wound”. Botha says the premise of bundle arrangements like Kaboedel/The Bundle is a model based on what a few international publishers have done and that it has some merit to it. “But articles become old and outdated so it’s not really solving the problem,” he says. “It has to be about getting the right content out quickly.”
One-stop digital platforms
Media24 has also been experimenting with combining the digital presence of some of its similar titles. In November 2013, it launched Dailyfix, a website that combines the content of Fairlady, Home and Ideas on one online platform. Since its inception, Dailyfix has “shown solid growth across the respective content channels”, says Beukes, and by the end of October 2014 it had 91 209 monthly users.
Media24 has also recently collated all its travel magazine websites under one umbrella called Weg se Werf, while yourparenting.co.za has been a successful one-stop digital destination for the company’s three parenting brands for a few years now, she adds.
“However, this is not a one-size-fits-all model, even for niche audiences. Some international publishers have had great success clustering titles to build digital destinations and properties but have in some instances retained some of the actual brand destinations within those ’portals‘. On our side we will evaluate all the pros and cons before bundling, but do believe we should build better scale,” says Beukes.
Another way magazine publishers are taking their print products online is through e-commerce ventures like Media24’s Spree, the first ‘shoppable magazine’ of its kind in South Africa. In February 2014, 10 months after its inception, the online fashion store reported a 500% growth, though this was off a zero base.
Botha says this is a fantastic way to diversify print products but is a “highly competitive environment”.
Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of research company World Wide Worx, agrees with Botha, saying that the Kalahari/Takealot merger indicates that Naspers “hasn’t quite cracked the code for online retail”.
As for Spree, Goldstuck says he doesn’t believe magazines lend themselves to e-commerce. “The two don’t translate. It’s not the same as media synergy. With media synergy, you’re talking about combining content platforms… but here you’re talking about a content platform and a retail activity. Those are two completely separate universes so you’re trying to create a link between two planets that have got different alien species on them. With media platforms, you’re talking about the same planet but with different complexions of people coming together.”
Different planet or not, in future we’re only going to see magazine publishers experiment further with print-digital models as they grapple with how to stay afloat.
This post was first published in 2015 The Media Yearbook. A digital version of the full magazine can be downloaded here.
Want to continue this conversation on The Media Online platforms? Comment on Twitter @MediaTMO or on our Facebook page. Send us your suggestions, comments, contributions or tip-offs via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.