Catholic pa­per set to go dig­i­tal

On­line ver­sion will carry dif­fer­ent con­tent from print

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - MEDIA & MARKETING - STAFF RE­PORTER

SOUTH Africa’s 90-year-old Catholic weekly news­pa­per, The South­ern Cross, is about to give birth to a num­ber of dig­i­tal off­spring in an at­tempt to pro­tect it­self from the with­er­ing as­sault of ris­ing pro­duc­tion costs in the print me­dia in­dus­try.

A new web­site, www.scross.co.za, with en­hanced search en­gine op­ti­mi­sa­tion has been de­vel­oped, and the past month has seen the launch of a weekly e-mail news­let­ter on free sub­scrip­tion.

A dig­i­tal ver­sion of the news­pa­per will soon be avail­able on­line along with a mo­bile site and cel­lu­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tions project.

The non-ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of the Catholic News­pa­per & Pub­lish­ing Com­pany Lim­ited, Chris Mo­erdyk, said that the cur­rent board of direc­tors had in­her­ited a daunt­ing chal­ice, given that in its en­i­tre 90 years The South­ern Cross had not missed a sin­gle week of pub­li­ca­tion.

“In spite of the fact that the lat­est ABC fig­ures show the South­ern Cross as be­ing only one of three news­pa­pers in South Africa to have held their own in a pe­riod of de­clin­ing cir­cu­la­tion, it is clear that there is no way we can carry on try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate with Catholics just through a news­pa­per.”

Mo­erdyk said that in the past year alone, pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion costs has risen alarm­ingly to the point where the com­pany had only just man­aged to show a mod­est profit.

“While profit isn’t the crit­i­cal mo­tive with us as it is in the com­mer­cial world, we none­the­less run this op­er­a­tion on strict busi­ness lines, aim­ing al­ways to make suf­fi­cient profit to fund de­vel­op­ment and in par­tic­u­lar to en­sure that our staff mem­bers are well looked af­ter.”

The South­ern Cross de­vel­op­ment plan will en­sure that the web­site and e-mail news­let­ter will not carry the same con­tent as the news­pa­per in or­der to give read­ers and sub­scribers added value rather than just a va­ri­ety of de­liv­ery op­tions.

“I be­lieve that a lot of news­pa­pers in this coun­try made a huge mis­take by sim­ply recre­at­ing their print prod­ucts on­line and ef­fec­tively just giv­ing away con­tent for noth­ing,” he said.

“Our on­line ver­sion, for ex­am­ple, will be on sub­scrip­tion at the same rate as the print ver­sion. Hope­fully in time our most loyal sub­scribers will mi­grate to the dig­i­tal ver­sion and al­low us to con­tain costs.”

Mo­erdyk said that the im­me­di­ate goal of the South­ern Cross man­age­ment team was to en­sure that it did not lose read­ers or ad­ver­tis­ers due to in­creased print pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion costs.

“Our ad­ver­tis­ers have re­mained ex­tremely loyal in spite of tar­iff hikes and we are hop­ing now to re­ward them by of­fer­ing them a pack­age of print and dig­i­tal prod­ucts.

“More value for their money. The rev­enue model we have de­vel­oped is unique to say the least. We’re go­ing into un­char­tered ter­ri­tory to a cer­tain ex­tent.”

The next step, he said, was to look at ways of reach­ing more Catholics in South­ern Africa.

“Right now the South­ern Cross has a cir­cu­la­tion of 11 000 copies a week, which trans­lates into a read­er­ship of about 40 000. This is piti­fully small when one con­sid­ers that there are about six mil­lions Catholics in this re­gion.

“But, rich or poor, we know that up­wards of 80 per­cent of th­ese Catholics own cell­phones and with cel­lu­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy in­creas­ing and hope­fully costs de­clin­ing, this will be our way into reach­ing more of our tar­get mar­ket,” he said.

MORE VALUE: Ed­i­tor Chris Mo­erdyk will be bring­ing out a dig­i­tal ver­sion of 90-year-old The South­ern Cross.

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