The economic travails of the coronavirus lockdown have exacerbated a crisis in the South African media, accentuating a longstanding decline – particularly of the printed media – with the latest being an announcement of Caxton and CTP to close its entire magazine division.
The decision affects some of the most long-standing publications, including Bona, Country Life, Food & Home, Rooi Rose and Your Family.
While the lockdown has not been responsible for the slow decline of the publications, which have all seen circulation dropping over the years, it has served to push them over the edge, particularly print magazines which were not granted “essential service” status in terms of government regulations.
Caxton pointed out in a statement that there has been a steady and continuous reduction in the overall amount of adspend being allocated by advertisers to the magazine media sector.
“The decline in circulation revenues has, over a number of years, significantly reduced the viability of the magazine business,” according to the statement issued by the Caxton board.
The closure of the Caxton magazine division follows the decision by Associated Media Publishing to close its own stable of magazines. This means Cosmopolitan South Africa, House & Leisure, Good Housekeeping South Africa and Women on Wheels, will close their doors from 1 May 2020. Other Caxton group titles affected are Essentials, Garden & Home, People, Vrouekeur, and Woman & Home.
According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations of South Africa, the latest circulation figures released were for the fourth quarter of 2019, and even then, consumer magazines declined in total by 20.1% year on year. One dramatic illustration of the declining appeal of magazines is Cosmopolitan South Africa which once sold over 250,000 copies a month. It was down to just under 40,000 when it closed.
Even comparative popularity has not saved some titles, with Bona, Rooi Rose, and Woman & Home all in the top ten consumer magazines in SA, illustrating how dependent magazines are on advertising support – the first thing companies cut in times of economic downturn.
The crisis in the media is not confined to magazines, with newspapers under the cosh too. Several newspaper publishers have imposed salary cuts of up to 40% on journalists and have stopped commissioning the services of freelance journalists.
One illustration is the Daily Sun which announced on 4 May that on Thursday it will only publish physical copies in four provinces, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West. Circulation of almost all newspapers declined around 20% in 2019, which puts a whole range of titles in a critical financial position.
Already the Association of Independent Publishers (AIP), which represents about 200 small independent community print publications across the country, has called for increased government advertising support, while the South African National Editors’ Forum has pointed out that a survey by the Southern African Freelancers’ Association showed that over 50% of members had already lost more than 70% of their income as a result of the pandemic.
Ironically, the lockdown period has seen a considerable uptick in media consumption, most visibly in the consumption of digital news which has dramatically increased. Most digital news publications have seen increases in circulation of over 50% – but that will be small comfort to the huge number of magazines that will never again see the light of day. BM
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