by Gill Moodie (@grubstreetSA) How the mighty have fallen. That is the striking impression when you look at the most recent ABC circulation figures for South Africa’s newspapers and magazines – for the fourth quarter of 2014 – and compare them with the numbers from 10 years ago.

ABC Q4 2014 overviewThe latest release from the Audit Bureau of Circulations of SA (ABC) is the same story as the last set of figures: one of general decline across the board with a handful of publication managing to hold steadily or grow slightly.

Also across the board, there is a rise in sales below 50% (of cover price) – especially for daily newspapers  – while it is also worth noting that the postal strike of last year knocked the magazine sector sideways because it slowed and interrupted the delivery of subscriptions.

As circulations fall, media inflation rises so it is not surprising that most publishers are glumly watching print advertising going through the floor. Of course, some titles such as the Mail & Guardian are migrating their print readers to tablet and Kindle editions but, sadly, the advertisers are slow in this country to catch the trend.

To show how devastating circulation decline has been to SA’s print industry,  Grubstreet asked the ABC for figures from 10 years ago.

The Afrikaans papers Rapport (the highest at 51.5% decline), Beeld and Die Burger top our table of biggest losers over 10 years followed by The Star and City Press. When it comes to magazines, Finweek (at 69.7%), Men’s Health, Cosmopolitan, Fairlady and True Love show the biggest sales decreases.

Are the Afrikaans papers perhaps victims of their own transformation here, I wonder, from National party mouthpieces to liberal, outward-looking titles? Is it possible that their readers have also become outward-looking and, in moving fast to digital (because it is a monied audience), they have also moved on from being loyal readers of the Afrikaans print titles. It is worth noting that Netwerk24, the Afrikaans news website for all the Media24 Afrikaans papers, is a profitable paywall operation.

The only title among all the newspapers and magazines to rise over 10 years is Drum – from  67 000 circulation 10 years ago to 113000 today – an increase of 68%

PLEASE NOTE: In 2004, the ABCs were released at six-month intervals so the 2004 figures are for the LAST six months of that year) and we have compared them with the latest, from the fourth quarter of last year. See the table below, which is interactive so that you can order the columns how you wish.

We have chosen a range of prominent newspapers and magazines and arranged them from the biggest percentage drop to the lowest.

Some things to note:

  • Die Burger’s numbers are for both its Western and Eastern Cape editions.
  • Ten years ago, Finweek was called Finansies & Tegniek/Finance Week
  • The Daily Sun was still new in 2004 and in a growth phase. It reached its zenith – a record 500 000 (for the SA newspaper industry) in 2007.
Title 2004 Q3-4 2014 Q4 Difference % Change
Beeld 102070 52276 -49794 -48.78
Burger* 104102 56474 -47628 -45.75
Business Day 40541 30883 -9958 -23.82
Cape Times 49526 31930 -17596 -35.53
City Press 173992 108927 -65065 -37.40
Cosmopolitan 117582 60272 -57310 -48.74
Daily Dispatch 33338 25894 -7444 -22.33
Daily Sun 364359 273746 -90613 -24.87
Drum 67012 113018 46006 68.65
FairLady 88123 47079 -41044 -46.58
Financial Mail 26612 19901 -6711 -25.22
Finweek* 38581 11678 -26903 -69.73
Huisgenoot 340570 259031 -81539 -23.94
Mail&Guardian 40162 33060 -7102 -17.68
Men’s Health 89562 42522 -47040 -52.52
Mercury 39343 26916 -12427 -31.59
Rapport 322731 156383 -166348 -51.54
Rooi Rose 119994 85575 -34419 -28.68
Sarie 137970 84408 -53562 -38.82
Sowetan 122825 99723 -23102 -18.81
Sunday Times 505402 385080 -120322 -23.81
The Star 166461 93014 -73447 -44.12
True Love 114793 63224 -51569 -44.92
You 222845 142981 -79864 -35.84


GrubstreetSouth Africa’s leading media commentator, Gill Moodie (@grubstreetSA) offers intelligence on media, old and new. Reprinted from her site Grubstreet with Biznews.

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