by Gill Moodie (@GrubstreetSA)  There’s blood on the floor in the most recent set of print sales figures – for the second quarter (Q2) of this year that were released this week by the  Audit Bureau of Circulations of SA (ABC)  – but there are also titles fighting for their lives, street by street, and even winning back a tiny  bit of territory.

There are a few newspapers out there that are actually managing to arrest circulation decline – and not just in the vernacular market.

This tells us that it is possible in newspapers today to be interesting and have meaning to people but you have to think very deeply about how to be relevant and you have to work very hard and be very patient about getting there, street by street, block by block.

This is not a traditional battle on open terrain but difficult, complicated urban warfare. sowetan

So you really have to put your hands together for the editors, newsrooms and publishing teams of:

Times Media Group’s The Herald in Port Elizabeth (edited by Heather Robertson) that started showing signs of stability throughout 2012 and in Q1 of 2013. In this latest reporting period, The Herald is showing a small uptick to  22 255 (from 22 113 in the same period a year ago).

“We put the pressure on ourselves,” Robertson told Grubstreet in this interview recently. “We do not want to see a newspaper that was started in 1845 dying. We want to survive and be relevant today and into the future.”

The Sowetan (edited by Mpumelelo Mkhabela and owned by Times Media) is also showing circulation growth – and for the second quarter in  a row! In Q2 2013, the paper came in at 99 517 total circulation from 98 156 a year ago.

Independent Newspapers’ Post  in KwaZulu-Natal (edited by Aakash Bramdeo) is also doing well. In Q2 this year, the paper was at 44 072 compared with 43 994 in the same period last year.

Then there are these newspaper where the fall in sales figures is relatively small:

  • Media24’s Die Burger (the Western and Eastern Cape editions combined): 59 704 in the second quarter of this year compared with 60 354 a year earlier (click here for a recent interview with editor Bun Booyens);
  • Times Media’s Daily Dispatch in East London: 25 956  in the second quarter of this year compared with 26 751 (notable as the paper is now being printed in Port Elizabeth, necessitating earlier print deadlines and making distribution more difficult);
  • Caxton’s Saturday edition of The Citizen (which goes big on sport): at 37 947 (38 068)
  • Times Media’s Saturday Dispatch: 20 186 (20 594)
  • Independent Newspapers’  The Sunday Independent: 35 002 (35 874)
  • Independent Newspapers’  Weekend Argus (Saturday and Sunday editions combined): 60 076 (61 705)
  • Independent Newspapers’ Isolezwe Saturday and Sunday editions: 79 874 (76 127) for the Saturday and 91 368 (90 092) for the Sunday. Interestingly, these latest ABCs show a decline in the daily Isolezwe – a first for this paper:   110 764 (113 786), possible a sign of the tough economic times translating into readers cutting back on buying the paper daily when they can pick it up at the weekend.

All these papers are doing something right, that’s for sure, especially when you compare them with these tables of the biggest daily and weekend losers in the recent round of ABC figures (Courtesy of ABC Q2 2013 presentation):

Courtesy of ABC Q2 2013 presentation. Click to enlarge.


Courtesy of ABC Q2 2013 presentation. Click to enlarge.

I really feel for Media24’s City Press and Daily Sun as both these paper have loads of moxy but, my word, those drops are concerning!

Look at, for example, this decline in City Press’ copy sales (the papers sold on the street and in shops, and a good dipstick of reader sentiment) year-on-year: 115 733 in Q2 this year compared with 142 413.


Copy sales at City Press’ rival, Times Media’s Sunday Times, are also down: at 248 859 compared with 253 121 a year earlier.

Total circulation of the Sunday Times is also down: at 422 869 compared with 452 785, with subscriptions dropping along with copy sales and a stripping out of the PMIE category (that goes to schools for free to aid literacy).

PMIE has probably been stopped by new Times Media CEO Andrew Bonamour to save on  distribution costs. A year ago, the Sunday Times was doing 25 000 PMIE papers; this quarter there were none – and third-party bulking was also reduced (from 26 000 a year ago to 23 636).

That will be a significant cost saving but it also means that Sunday Times editor Phylicia Oppelt will really have to prove her mettle  as the paper must increasingly stand and fall by it copy sales and subscriptions.

The Sunday Times’ sister paper, The Times, however, is showing a rise in copy sales under new editor Stephen Haw: at 50 236 compared with 47 833 a year ago. Total circulation (many of which go to Sunday Times subscribers for free) is at: 143 597 in Q2 this year compared with 142 383.

While “digital editions” are counted by the ABC, these do not yet include Kindle or app sales but only pdf-repilca “e-editions” of the printed product. It is interesting to note that Business Day and the Mail & Guardian are leading the field here: at 600 and 1 350 sales respectively, probably a signal that their readers are receptive to digital delivery of the titles.

The M&G – which fell year-on-year in total circulation from 46 518 to 42 496 – is selling more than 1500 iPad editions and about 3 000  Kindle these days so it’s possible that some their print buyers are migrating to digital.

It’s too early to tell if Business Day’s BDlive metered paywall, launched in May, is stemming circulation decline. The paper’s total circulation was at  32 486 in this latest quarter compared with 35 070 in 2012.

– SA’s leading media commentator, Gill Moodie, offers intelligence on media – old and new. Reprinted from her site Grubstreet.

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