Catholic paper set to go digital
Online version will carry different content from print
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.