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.