Thirty years after it was launched in 1985 and a turbulent first two decades, the magazine DEKAT is still very much alive and quite well thanks to the stewardship of owner Elzilda Becker. Stephanie Nieuwoudt looks at why the magazine has outlasted so many others.
After its launch, it soon became one of those publications that people loved, but also loved to hate. It was too exclusive. It was too focused on a niche market. So said the critics. And yet, if you considered yourself to be an informed and trendy Afrikaans speaker, you never missed an issue.
Over the years the magazine’s owners, Penta Publications and later Nothemba Media, ran into a host of troubles including changes of ownership and fears of liquidation and court cases. For years the magazine’s future was uncertain and, in 2002 it seemed as if DEKAT would have to close. Into this turbulence stepped Becker, businesswoman and at the time managing director of DEKAT.
She says her purchase of the magazine was the result of anger against an individual.
“During a board meeting a wet behind the ears individual declared that the time for Afrikaans has passed and that DEKAT would never survive. I was furious. It is not up to a single person to decide that a language or culture can be written off so easily.”
Since she took over as owner and publisher (her company is African Sky Publishing), DEKAT, with a circulation of 14 600, has sailed in much calmer waters. In 2006 she also launched an English DEKAT. This serves a smaller market of at least 5 000 – more when advertising revenue allows which is traditionally in July and December every year.
Becker is unapologetic about the bi-monthly magazine’s exclusive nature.
“DEKAT is a South African magazine targeting all who have aspirations of a better life – lifting people out of the morass of mediocrity. There is something for everyone – from the luxurious, to yes, the pretentious and unusual. Something for the intellectual, the bohème, the art lover and the eccentric. Content is presented in a fresh way and with an eye on the extraordinary. Our standards are high – from the choice of paper, layout and photographs, to the quality of articles and the correct balance to ensure we offer something for all our readers. It is a niche-market magazine with a readership and feedback that continuous to surprise us. I am happy when we receive letters thanking us for not underestimating the Afrikaans reader.”
How does the magazine survive financially?
“We are very fortunate in the sense that our advertisers are loyal and committed to the brand. This means that we achieve our advertising targets more often than not.”
Becker says magazines in general no longer rely on an advertising/copy split of 40%/60 %. “More realistic today is 30%/70%. DEKAT manages to make a profit, but more advertising will definitely help.”
And then there are the pages discreetly marked “Promotion” with beautiful photographs and well-written copy that make these glorified advertisements which bring in revenue, indistinguishable from the rest of the articles.
Herman Lategan, a popular Afrikaans columnist and independent journalist has been a DEKAT reader since the early days.
“DEKAT was founded by the late Johan van Rooyen and started out as an upmarket publication that was lovely, but quite up its own arse actually. The writing was often stiff, posh, grand, trite and anal retentive. It did have some superb writing though. That said, the current DEKAT can occasionally also push pretentiousness, but far less than way back then.”
In a market where magazines struggle to survive, Becker has not only managed to maintain a high standard regarding both content and visual appeal – gathering a number of accolades including PICA, AdMag, Sappi and Mondi awards. She has also branched out to TV. DEKAT-TV first aired on kykNET (Channel 144) in October 2011. In March this year DEKAT, with its expanded books supplement, was launched at Stellenbosch University’s Woordfees.
“We are serious about Afrikaans, Afrikaans writers and Afrikaans literature. The voices of writers and thought-provoking articles about literature are being cut in some media. We feel it is our responsibility to fill that gap,” says Becker.
“We want to stimulate discourse around books and the literary world. This is part of our goal to make people think differently. We are passionate about our language and culture and proud of the global successes of South Africans in many spheres. It is wonderful to celebrate these achievements and to introduce new voices to our readers and TV audience. I am besotted with our readers. They are literate, loyal and well-travelled. There is a huge untapped market for stylish Afrikaners who are satisfied with only the best. Why would the magazine not survive?”
There is a close relationship between the TV series and the magazine.
“We use the TV inserts to gauge what is popular and we then use similar content in the magazine. Our fifth season on kykNET starts on 18 July and our 4.5 million viewers have exceeded our expectations.”
Lategan explains why he reads the magazine. “DEKAT contributes to the Afrikaner discourse in various ways, by pushing writers, artists, musicians, and various other interesting people and their endeavours.
“The magazine profiles people who are of importance to the Afrikaans (and South African) landscape or world. They therefore capture an oral history, stories that should be told and kept. This niche publication still has gravitas. I read it because visually it is of a high standard, the writing is good, and because I am a magazine and news junkie.”
Becker is not afraid of controversy.
The September/October 2013 issue caused a furore when singer/actress/businesswoman Elzabé Zietsman posed naked for a cover shoot. Fins sprouted from her back as illustration for a story on the possible effects of genetically modified food on humans.
Becker says she does not deliberately court controversy. “But when people react strongly, it is fine with me. It is much better to have strong response to what you do, than no reaction at all.”
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