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

The advertising industry is increasingly concerned over the future of print media as figures for the second quarter show both magazine and newspaper circulation in steep decline.

Total magazine circulation fell 10.4% from the first quarter of 2019 and 18.7% year on year, while the respective declines for newspaper circulation were 1.4% and 6.9%, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

"The macro factors contributing to the decline are the obvious," says Owen Williams of Intimedia, an owner-managed media strategy and planning agency.

"The constant rise of living expenses and poor economic state of the country definitely play a role. South Africans are financially taking strain, and buying any form of print publication would be considered a luxury.

"In conjunction with this, data costs are constantly declining and access to Wi-Fi hotspots is becoming more readily available, making it more convenient and financially viable for consumers to acquire content online."

The rise of digital isn’t slowing down. "Digital is more immediate and relevant compared to traditional print, which will always be a few hours behind the breaking news," Williams says.

"Digital provides news as and when it happens, which consumers are demanding; it allows engagement and commentary and it’s mostly free. These are benefits to the consumer that print can’t compete with."

On the debate over the quality of print vs the expediency of digital, he says: "You might say print provides a better journalistic view and has more in-depth, credible and detailed content around the news; however, we know consumers are becoming more and more limited for time. This again plays into the hands of digital, as short headlines and reviews of incidents and stories are more convenient and easier to consume than the traditional long, thought-provoking article in print. With this in mind, print [is] in a lose-lose situation."

In the business magazine space, Finweek’s circulation is down almost 14% from 17,188 to 14,812, while the FM is up almost 6% from 13,080 to 13,836.

The Star newspaper is down from 72,375 to 71,692; Business Day from 20,145 to 18,327; City Press from 50,200 to 46,535; and Rapport from 112,332 to 99,528.

The Sunday Times declined from 250,575 to 240,219.

"I’m surprised print has managed to hold on for this long with the constant increase in hard costs incurred by publications to keep the machines turning, and the decline of readers," Williams adds.

"Advertisers are being charged more to reach [fewer people]. Advertisers will determine the survival of print — when brands decide the cost per reach using print as a channel is more than they are willing to pay, that is when print will cease to exist."

So what strategy and approach should advertisers take towards print?

Niche and business-related titles still have a place, Williams says. "Print can still be used to reach a discerning, high-end market within specific interest groups or verticals. [That’s] the reason we see positive results in titles like House & Garden, Car, Popular Mechanics, Forbes and the FM.

"All of these titles speak to a high-end market with very specific interests and the need for credible content."