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PRINT BLOODBATH

End of an era as Media24 plans cull of iconic titles

End of an era as Media24 plans cull of iconic titles
DRUM magazine is one of the titles affected by the Media 24 cull. It is now set to be published only online.

Media24 is considering the closure of five magazines and more than three newspapers. It joins a growing list of publishing companies that have either permanently closed their entire operations or hived off media titles, including Associated Media Publishing and Caxton.

South Africa’s magazine and newspaper publishing industry has become another casualty of Covid-19, with the crippling pandemic pushing several well-loved and iconic titles into extinction. 

On Tuesday 7 July, Media24, one of SA’s biggest publishing companies, announced that it is considering the closure of five magazines and more than two newspapers, and taking print publications to digital-only platforms.

This restructuring process could see nearly 660 job losses across Media24’s magazine and newspaper publishing division, adding to SA’s already worrying jobs bloodbath across many sectors of the economy.

These potential job losses represent more than 20% of the total staff complement of 2,971 throughout the division. Consultations on job cuts with staff will begin on Tuesday. 

Media24 joins a growing list of publishing companies that have either permanently closed their operations or hived off media titles, including Associated Media Publishing (owners of Cosmopolitan, House & Leisure and Good Housekeeping) and Caxton, which recently withdrew from magazine publishing and associated businesses.

The publishing industry has a long value chain that includes newspaper and magazine production, printing, and distribution. Media24’s division that includes the production and distribution of magazines and newspapers is big, as it contributed 60% to the company’s total group revenue for its financial year ended 31 March 2020. 

The possible closure and restructuring of magazines and newspapers could negatively impact on Media24’s financial position, considering the size of the division in the group. But Media24 said the possible closure of some magazine and newspaper titles is aimed at “protecting the sustainability and longevity of still the bulk of the print portfolios.”

The restructuring of Media24’s newspapers, magazine, and distribution is bad news for Caxton and Novus, the main printers of the company’s media titles. Caxton and Novus will print fewer volumes of magazines and newspapers due to the potential closures, charging Media24 far less than previously.

Arguably, any closure of a media title is bad, as it means the reader will have fewer choices and there will be less diversity of views in SA’s publishing industry.  

The news media business was already on shaky ground before Covid-19 began spreading across SA in March 2020, something that Ishmet Davidson, CEO of Media24, recognises.  

“The pandemic has accelerated the pre-existing and long-term structural decline in print media, resulting in a devastating impact on our own already fragile print media operations, with significant declines in both circulation and advertising since April. 

“For many of our print titles the benefits of prior interventions to offset the structural declines and keep them on the shelf no longer exist, and they’ve run out of options in this regard,” Davidson said in a statement. 

“Even with a return to pre-Covid-19 economic levels, the impact of the pandemic on our print media operations will be unrecoverable. Sadly, we have no choice but to restructure our business now to curtail the losses in our print portfolio and allow us to focus on keeping the retained titles sustainable and in print for as long as possible,” he added.  

Title closures and consolidations

Magazine titles that will face the chop in Media24’s portfolio include Move!, Men’s HealthWomen’s HealthBicycling and Runner’s World

It will be the end of an era for DRUM, which began printing in the early 1950s and was one of the few magazines that provided a voice and platform to black readers during apartheid SA. It will now be published in a digital format only.

Media24 will outsource the production of other monthly magazines and reduce the frequency with which they are published. Parenting magazines including Baba & Kleuter and Your Pregnancy will be published independently through a licensing agreement with editor Helen Schöer. 

The editorial production of monthly and fortnightly magazines — including FairladySARIESA Hunter/JagterTrue Love, Tuis homeWeg! | go! and WegRy & Sleep go! (Drive & Camp) and Kuier — will be outsourced. Flagship weeklies HuisgenootYOU and Landbouweekblad will continue to be produced and published in-house, Media24 said. In some cases, the publishing frequency of monthly magazines will be reduced to six issues per year. 

Newspapers in the Media24 stable have not been spared. 

Newspapers to be closed include Son op Sondag, Sunday Sun, the Eastern Cape edition of Son, and four community newspapers in KwaZulu-Natal (Amanzimtoti Fever, East Griqualand Fever, Hillcrest Fever and Maritzburg Fever).

Like DRUMVolksblad and Die Burger Oos-Kaap will be published on a digital platform to be available on weekdays as complete PDFs on the Netwerk24 website. The Witness, a daily newspaper published in Pietermaritzburg, will eventually be taken online.

Other community newspapers that are delivered free in the Northern Cape, including Noordkaap and Kalahari Bulletin, will be consolidated into a single newspaper. DM/BM

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