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Print in a pandemic: Six months of DM168 and going stro...

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Opinionista

Print in a pandemic: Six months of DM168 and going strong

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Styli Charalambous is the CEO and co-founder of Daily Maverick, having joined the effort a few months before launch in 2009. Over the years, he has studied media models and news innovation efforts. He has also helped launch various projects and products within the Daily Maverick orbit.

On 26 September 2020, Volume 1, Edition 1, of Daily Maverick 168 (DM168) was delivered to 120 Pick n Pay stores in Gauteng, KZN and the Western Cape. At the time, it made global industry headlines that a group of digital mavericks at the bottom of Africa were wading into print-infested waters. 'Madder than a bag of snakes' was the self-proclaimed assessment as we set about launching a print title in the middle of a pandemic.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Now, as we celebrate our sixth month of publication, we can reflect on some of the lessons from this escapade and take stock.

We may have a history of being somewhat contrarian here at Daily Maverick, and rumours of our stubbornness aren’t greatly exaggerated. We’ve launched many products and projects over the years, some more successful than others. So the decision to enter the weekly print market was met with a wink and shake of the head; we were blindly zigging when others were zagging.

There is an allure to surprising the market and our readers, but it wasn’t all gut instinct and hope that propelled us into print. True, we had a hunch, the embryo of a hypothesis, that some – enough – people would value a weekly print title of high-quality journalism. That print wasn’t in fact dead, but rather the quality of service was dying.

It’s all very well having a hunch, but it was important for us to see multiple research reports that showed that our own readers and those of other news websites were still reading print. They just didn’t want to pay for the crap being passed off as news anymore.

In the past, we’d made the mistake of jumping head first into launching new products, our hearts and gut leading the way while our brains struggled for a spot at the steering wheel. This time we stopped to ask: “What job does this newspaper need to do for our readers in times of information and disinformation overload?” Working backwards from there, figuring out the value proposition for our readers, we were able to craft a news package that would cater to a variety of reader needs to inform and update, educate, inspire and divert, to navigate the world in which we live, connect with each other and help to protect our collective future. All while providing a gift basket of words and images offering respite from the digital screens that consume us.  

This helped us decide on the mix of articles and sections in our print weekly. Instant digital publishing affords much leniency when it comes to deadlines, and that malleability can become a burden the larger a newsroom grows. Bringing back hard deadlines to our newsroom and new production processes has brought focus to routines consumed by the never-satisfied digital monster.

We might think we’re doing a good job, but the final arbiters of quality are our readers. Earlier this year, we checked in with our loyal readers to see how we were faring with our mission to create a new weekly reading habit. The results complemented the growth in circulation as an indication that we’re on the right track: 50% of survey respondents spend 45 to 90 minutes with each edition and a further 28% spend more than 90 minutes. In an age when focus and attention are hijacked at every opportunity, this is a simply phenomenal result.

Among the other feedback, readers gave a resounding “yes”, with a 9.2/10 promoter score of how likely people are to recommend DM168 to others. And, apparently, they have been doing just that. Whereas our first weekend saw just over 18,000 copies scanned through PnP tills, the average for the past seven weeks was 31,000 as we expanded into more stores and more provinces.

Advertising support has been sluggish but shows growth and momentum as we enter a new financial year and budgetary cycle, pretty much as we expected after the print advertising sector’s 65% contraction in 2020. Six months is a short time in publishing but there are many lessons so far. As we continue to grow this and our other editorial offerings, the most important lessons are about providing the highest-quality journalism in the service of our audience. Everything else is fighting for second place. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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All Comments 4

  • Such good news, Styli. Well done, DM. Take a very well deserved bow. The front pages are ACE. As Jesus said to John, keep on keeping on but don’t go losing your visionary, innovative, strategic heads. Watch your backs – you’re all far too influential to our joint futures to lose any one of you!

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