New ABC figures should get us thinking

The new audited print media figures are illuminating. South Africa’s newspaper sales – according to last week’s ABC release – continue to decline sharply, the exception being isiZulu newspapers.

Daily newspapers continued their drastic decline, averaging about 5% a year since 2008, a loss of 414 000 average daily sales to take it down to just under 1,3-m. English-language papers dropped 6,4% annually, Afrikaans 4,4%, while vernacular newspapers increased by 3,3%.

The biggest growth was the Independent Groups Isolezwe newspaper, which increased 5,22% year-on-year, one small bit of light in an otherwise dismal group performance. The Independent group also boasted three of the four dailies which showed the biggest drop: Cape Argus (an astounding -23%), the Star and Pretoria News (both -18%).

The Sowetan, owned by Avusa, also lost 18%.

Just as the Daily Sun gave us much of the industry growth in the first few years of its life, shooting quickly to 500 000 copies, so it is now contributing to the decline, as it continued to fall down to under 350 000.

Weekly newspapers (which are those that come out weekly but not on weekends), having declined last year, have recovered to their 2008 levels of just over 550 000 average sales. Weekend newspapers, on the other hand, have declined badly, an average of 2,6% a year to take them to just over 2,1-m.

Again, the vernacular papers were the exception, with a remarkable 38% growth annually over the same period.

One notable shift was my old paper, the Mail & Guardian. Having bucked the trend in recent years with significant growth, they have dipped down a little again to 46 518 sales, roughly where they were in 2010.

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