Sunday, bloody Sunday
Competition tightens in the weekend newspaper market
A YEAR into the job and Ferial Haffajee has done what new editors do: redesigned her newspaper. But the change at City Press is more than cosmetic, signalling a new outbreak of hostilities in South Africa’s Sunday newspaper market. “My brief was clear,” she says. “After 30 years it was time for City Press to be more than a leading black Sunday paper. It had to be a leading Sunday paper.”
Inevitably, that brings it into conflict with the Big Daddy of them all, the Sunday Times, positioned as City Press would like to be, with readers among all race groups. “We’re making a solid challenge for a much larger share of the Sunday reading market,” says Haffajee. “We expect a fight back from the Sun
Haffajee’s circulation target is a big ask: 300 000 within five years. To get there from its current 176 000 (JanuaryMarch 2010) will require growth of 12%/year – unprecedented for a large, established publication. Current growth leader Ilanga langeSonto has managed 16%/year for four years – but off a low base.
Mediology MD Ana Oxlee-Moore doesn’t believe it’s achievable. “It’s a big shift, and it will take a long time to turn readers. Under a new editor the Sunday Times will also get some fresh thinking. It already has more black readers than City
Press. It make mores sense to target that segment.” With 13 Sunday papers and 12 weekend editions published on Saturdays, SA’s weekend market is undoubtedly the most competitive of all newspaper segments – and getting more so.
But many papers are struggling. “Many people who used to buy two newspapers on Sundays have cut back to one,” says MediaShop MD Virginia Hollis. Six of the nine established titles have experienced circulation losses over the period, but with three new entrants the total number of newspapers bought every Sunday rose by 8,4%.
For Hollis, the most exciting potential is to tweak the tail of the Sunday Times. “It’s a good idea to give them a hard time,” she says. “They’ve strangled the industry for long enough.”
Of Haffajee, she says: “I was very impressed. She certainly knows her stuff. She’ll do the world of good for that paper. She’ll take it to the next level. People will start talking about the editorial and that will lead to circulation growth.” The most striking evidence of change at City
Press has been the colourful new design by Singaporean designer Peter Ong. But Haffajee says: “Content must lead design. You can make it pretty but if the content doesn’t deliver what the reader wants, no amount of design will substitute.
“We want to be a quality Sunday read, characterised by quality of design, writing and photography. Quality doesn’t mean long, boring screeds of copy.”
“If anybody can reposition the paper, Ferial can,” says Johan Prins, of media agency newcomer Space. “ City Press has the underdog advantage of being able to focus on a niche. It will be difficult for the Sunday Times to counter that.”
We tried for a response from the Sunday Times
but editor Ray Hartley didn’t return our calls.