Lekker

Finweek English Edition - - ADVERTISING & MARKETING -

It’s now ac­cepted as fact that news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines have been the big­gest vic­tims of the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion. While other me­dia have found a per­fect part­ner in on­line me­dia, gain­ing view­ers and lis­ten­ers as well as ad­ver­tis­ing sup­port, print has lost ground on all counts. It’s the one medium that can’t take the dig­i­tal heat. Ap­par­ently. But as with so many gen­er­al­i­sa­tions, there are ex­cep­tions. And in the case of news­pa­pers, it is a big one: lo­cal news­pa­pers and freesheets. They have not just held their own, they have in­creased their rev­enues while the big­ger, more re­spected ur­ban dailies and week­lies have lost ground.

What are the rea­sons for this? First, says Gill Ran­dall, joint MD of Caxton’s National Ad­ver­tis­ing Bureau (NAB), they are meet­ing a need that no other medium can meet right now: lo­cal news and lo­cal shop­ping in­for­ma­tion. (Caxton is the big­gest pub­lisher of lo­cal news­pa­pers.)

“No other sources have this lo­cal con­tent. It’s not only about edi­to­rial, but also shop­ping in­for­ma­tion and edi­to­rial rel­e­vance. It will be a long time be­fore you will sat­isfy all th­ese needs on the In­ter­net. It is about lo­cal con­tent”. Canny in­vestor War­ren Buf­fett has bought a big stake in com­mu­nity news­pa­pers – and that’s a vote of con­fi­dence.

What’s the se­cret? Why do lo­cal and com­mu­nity news­pa­pers seem to be sur­viv­ing un­scathed by the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion? “Lo­cal News has em­braced the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion and is com­bin­ing dig­i­tal and print to re­in­force and grow the re­la­tion­ship be­tween lo­cal me­dia and their read­ers,” says Me­dia24’s head of lo­cal and com­mu­nity news­pa­pers, Ish­met David­son. “While ur­ban dailies and week­lies are los­ing cir­cu­la­tion and ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue at an alarm­ing rate, the lo­cals and freesheet cir­cu­la­tions are grow­ing – or at least de­clin­ing more slowly.

“Lo­cal news­pa­pers, in par­tic­u­lar, have been re­silient be­cause they are eas­ily and read­ily ac­ces­si­ble. Ev­ery week the pa­pers are de­liv­ered di­rectly to the homes of our 5m read­ers, who love the hy­per-lo­cal con­tent, which i n t ur n gen­er­ates un­ri­valled re­sponse for our ad­ver­tis­ers.”

Will lo­cal news­pa­pers even­tu­ally have to com­pete with lo­cal ra­dio and TV for news and shop­ping in­for­ma­tion? “Lo­cal news­pa­pers don’t nec­es­sar­ily com­pete with ra­dio and TV but rather form a com­ple­men­tary part of the me­dia mix,” says David­son. “To­gether they pro­mote and en­hance the ef­fec­tive­ness of ad­ver­tis­ing in lo­cal me­dia.”

And this is no f lash-in-the-pan. “We be­lieve the last news­pa­per to be printed will be a lo­cal news­pa­per and that lo­cal news­pa­pers will be cen­tral in the dis­sem­i­na­tion of lo­cal news for many, many years.”

NAB in­vests heav­ily in re­search in or­der to get bet­ter and more rel­e­vant reader fig­ures. “Our pa­pers pro­vide edi­to­rial rel­e­vance that you can ac­cess in your own time and at your leisure,” says Ran­dall. “Peo­ple shop lo­cally, so they turn to their lo­cal news­pa­per. Peo­ple buy the big ur­ban pa­pers daily and read them at work. But they are not in their head space to make shop­ping lists.”

Ran­dall doesn’t see ra­dio or the In­ter­net as threats to lo­cal news­pa­pers. “I can’t see one re­plac­ing the other at all. Lo­cal ra­dio be­comes a sup­port medium. And com­mu­nity news­pa­pers are still used to make shop­ping de­ci­sions, even in high­In­ter­net ar­eas like Four­ways and Sand­ton, where they have 90% pen­e­tra­tion.”

The statis­tics are cer­tainly alarm­ing, whether they ref lect the num­ber of ti­tles, their com­bined cir­cu­la­tion, or the ad­vert ising rev­enue. In al l of t hese cases, news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines are watch­ing their pub­li­ca­tions de­cline, with one big ex­cep­tion: the frees.

Lat­est f ig­ures show the num­ber of lo­cal news­pa­pers grow­ing 10% a y e a r, while da i l i e s s howed no change and mag­a­zines lost 0.1%. Daily news­pa­pers’ com­bined cir­cu­la­tion has fallen 6% a year for f ive con­sec­u­tive years. The Daily Sun, which peaked at over 500 000, is now sell­ing 296 000 copies.

Gill Ran­dall

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