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Picture: 123RF/olegdudko
Picture: 123RF/olegdudko

In a strategic pivot that marks a shift in the SA media landscape and puts 400 jobs at risk, Media24 is seeking to close the print editions of five newspapers, transitioning three of them into digital-only brands.

“Our titles in the northern region have been on life support for a while,” CEO Ishmet Davidson said on Tuesday. “After years of cutbacks, we’ve reached the end of cost reductions to try to save these print operations. We’ve run out of options.”

Media24, an offshoot of Naspers, one of the world’s biggest internet companies, was on course to suffer combined losses of R200m over the next three years, Davidson said.

This comes less than a week after reports of a restructuring.

Print editions on the chopping block include Beeld, Rapport, City Press, Daily Sun and Soccer Laduma, as well as the digital editions of Volksblad and Die Burger Oos-Kaap and the digital hub SNL24.

Those transitioning to digital-only publications are Rapport, City Press and Daily Sun. As digital brands, these will reside on the group’s Netwerk24 and News24 platforms.

If these storied newspapers cease print publication, it will mark a shift in SA’s media landscape, mirroring a global trend towards digital news consumption, which has been decimating print media circulation and advertising revenues. It would also hit the diversity of information flow via traditional means, leaving Arena Holdings’ Sunday Times with virtually no competition on the news-stands.

Media24 said it had reached a deal with Novus Holdings to sell its media logistics business, On the Dot, and its community newspaper portfolio subject to regulatory approvals.

The company said it would start consultations with staff and the transfer of the businesses to the new owner this week. September 30 is earmarked as the last day of publication for the affected newspapers.

The restructuring could lead to at least 400 job losses, with another 400 potentially transferring to Novus upon the sale of On the Dot and community newspapers.

Media24’s financial results for the year to March 2023 paint a picture of a company in trouble: revenue down to $217m, a 16% year-on-year drop, and trading profit at $7m, a 59% free fall from a year earlier.

Even then, the group said News24 averaged 9.1-million daily unique page views in the period, while Netwerk24 saw 5.7-million page views. During the election week, these generated close on 105-million page views combined. This peaked at 21.9-million for News24 and 5.8-million for Netwerk24 on a single day, a company record.

“In SA, like elsewhere, consumer preferences have changed. People now read more news than ever, but most prefer to do so on their cellphones or laptops and publishers have to comply with their preferences,” Davidson said. “Print media globally has been suffering structural declines in circulation and advertising for decades. Combined with rising distribution costs, this has had a devastating impact on print operations.”

gavazam@businesslive.co.za

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