The Media Yearbook: The Media Yearbook, the only one of its kind in Africa, offers an important and independent overview of the media industry in 2015 as well as giving important insight and perspective into global trends and forecasting for 2016. Here Britta Reid reports on the state of the local magazine industry and some of their survival techniques.
The third quarter data release from the Audit Bureau of Circulations of South Africa shows magazines, in total, declined by 4.4% compared with the previous quarter. Given that the count by the ABC at midyear showed that 30 magazine titles had closed, and only 11 had opened (a 6.2% drop in the number of audited magazines to 503) this was a reasonable performance.
Custom magazines, produced specifically for an organisation for its customers or members or staff, took the brunt of this, dropping by 6.8%, whilst consumer magazines lost 1.9%.
Business to business publications posted a modest increase of 0.6%, attributable to a new member (SA Graan/Grain) and increases from specialist titles ranging from IMIESA to Screen Africa.
“With the postal strikes last year and often prohibitive costs of print and postal, (Discovery and Edgars were mailing one million magazines), coupled with the rising use of mobile devices to consume content, our large retail clients have opted to include more digital content offering,” explains Lani Carstens, group managing director of John Brown South Africa.
John Brown’s Discovery magazine was printing 1.3 million copies, mailed to members three times annually. This year, following a strategy of communicating more regularly and cost-effectively to members, they now offer the same content monthly, but only on a digital platform.
Postal strikes and distribution
For Edgars Club, largely due to postal strikes, the distribution model was changed, with 250 000 copies couriered to Club VIP members and 450 000 delivered in-store. Club members get the magazine free with purchase, but it’s also available for sale at R20 per copy to all Edgars shoppers.
Implemented in July 2015, this strategy generated sizable sales, creating another revenue stream. This continuing commitment to print may be attributed to its proven effectiveness. Carstens refers to independent qualitative research proving Edgars Club magazines are used as shopping tools, with club members spending on average 30% more in-store than non Club members.
At New Media Publishing, known for its multiple award-winning and extravagantly lavish magazines such as VISI and Woolworths’ TASTE, print is still considered premium.
Print must deliver pleasure
Adelle Horler, group head of content, stresses, “Print must deliver pleasure; the feel of paper, the smell of ink, the reward of leaning back in your chair, and the quiet single-mindedness of a medium with no flashing cursors, alerts or pop-ups.”
Nevertheless, the company transformed itself into a content marketing agency, a field which is becoming oversubscribed with too little differentiation. Horler points out, “Successful agencies will continue to reinvent themselves and diversify their offering, while remaining true to their core speciality”.
Consequently during 2015, New Media launched both a books division and a digital agency. “This allows us to offer multiple opportunities to our clients. But our DNA remains the same – quality journalism whatever the platform and clever ideas that meet an audience need,” she adds.
The premium quality of print combined with the need for reinvention are constant themes among consumer publishers.
“Despite the turbulence the media industry faces, magazine publishers have entered an era of unbelievable opportunity and innovation rooted in what has essentially always been our biggest and most unique assets – premium quality content that truly connects and premium audiences that are highly and undividedly engaged,” Charlene Beukes, general manager of Media24 Lifestyle, affirms.
She believes that the difference now is that magazine brands are evolving into value-driven multi-platform content experiences.
“Connectivity with our audiences is not only vital for our own sustainability, but also to protect magazine brands at large as viable and desirable points of entry to audiences that offer advertisers real value for their marketing budgets,” she adds.
Tough trading conditions
Magazines remain the cornerstone of the Media24 strategy. “We continue to be ambitious about growing our digital brand audiences, fortunately, from an already solid foundation,” says Beukes. “There’s undeniable strength and value in increasing our current audience of close on 5.2m across Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. Mobile and video are hot buzzwords amongst publishers, and both are already well entrenched in our audience base and their consumption behaviour.”
Over the past two years, they’ve made significant progress in tapping into the value inherent to aggregated brand audiences to build events as a significant revenue stream, e.g. flagship weeklies Huisgenoot/YOU/DRUM presenting Days of the Dinosaur (2014), the Ice Age exhibition, SARIE’s Voorbladgesig competition and, 30 Days of Home + Food (March 2016) with its 12 participating brands from their Women’s Interest Division.
Anton Botes, general manager of Caxton Magazines concurs, saying, “Addressing the changing way readers are consuming media is a top priority. Trading conditions may be tough but our growing online audience, and continued investment across different digital platforms helps to provide advertisers with a 360 degree strategy to reach their target markets effectively.”
He says editorial excellence remains at the heart of Caxton’s business, adding, “Whatever the platform, our brands will always provide relevant and authentic content for our audience.”
Another innovation is ‘pop-up’ publishing – the most successful example of which is LOSE IT! Horler points out, “We need to ignore the cult of growth at all costs and be content with a circulation that suits the niche. Suzy Brokensha, FAIRLADY editor in chief, got this right with LOSE IT! which talks exclusively to the Banting community.
“The magazine has settled on an achievable circulation, and is made profitable using a model that doesn’t rely on ad revenue.That kind of focus and flexibility will ensure survival.”
Brokensha muses, “Loyalty to a brand is harder to earn and more challenging to retain – which, in the end, makes for better products and a more rewarding reader experience. I believe that voice (honesty, character and tone) will increasingly become a factor in content.
“Loyalty is not based on curated content alone; the increasing sameness and availability of content makes voice the real differentiator. The arena of established brands is an exciting place to be.”
Keeping Fast Company
The South African edition of the iconic Fast Company magazine was bravely launched in 2014. Robbie Stammers, publishing editor of Insights Publishing recounts, “Some people thought I must be smoking my socks! Who would dare bring out a new title in such a volatile magazine market?” Although he admits to initially having had a torrid time, advertising support slowly but steadily climbed. Fast Company’s success is testimony to well-executed niche publishing still having a future.
From an independent publisher’s perspective, Gisèle Wertheim Aymés, director of Isiko Media, paints a less rosy picture. She expresses concern saying, “The local magazine industry is not leading but panicking. This is evident in a lot of old thinking, massive and unsustainable discounting to hang onto advertising.
“When any company discounts the value of a brand beyond what’s competitive, the value will be destroyed in the long run. Companies will not earn or keep the respect of advertisers.”
She also warns that “buying” customers by offering gifts on every other issue is not sustainable.
Wertheim Aymés admits that there are clearly no quick and easy solutions but says, “Publishers have to accept the disruption means that they’re no longer publishers – they own brands and have businesses and have to find new ways to leverage the relationship their brands have with consumers to generate income.
“I believe they’ll have to look outside of marketing budgets and to consumer- led solutions to find other revenue if they’re to survive. I personally want my business to thrive in this environment so we’re changing constantly to adapt to this disruption”.
Wertheim Aymés also admonishes, saying, “There’s not enough support for a collective effort to communicate the benefits of this category in a unified way. As a magazine industry we don’t even have an industry body to represent us or share or promote our value as a category.”
The establishment of the Publisher Research Council will hopefully address this collective need in 2016, as the individual publishers grapple with the transformation of their businesses.
This story was first published in The Media Yearbook, an annual title of Wag the Dog Publishers.
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