by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) Josephine Buys, Publisher Research Council (PRC) CEO, and Peter Langschmidt, PRC research head, break down some surprising findings from research into the media consumption habits of South Africans pre-covid-19, in the form of the PAMS Brands People, Products and Platforms (PPP) Fusion 2019 Survey with Nielsen.

Note: Parts of this interview were conducted prior to the coronavirus/covid-19 pandemic being declared as such.

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Publisher Research Council (PRC ) logoQ5: What was the most-surprising finding from the study, regarding reading in South Africa?
Josephine Buys: For us at the PRC, it was discovering that radio drive-time doesn’t have the same impact today as it has had in the past; that smartphones, and reading on smartphones, [have] taken the greatest share of audience during the day. Our Brands People Products & Platforms (PPP) Fusion 2019 clearly shows that, during the day [in a non-lockdown context], when the shops [were] open and the vast majority of commerce [took] place, the number of consumers reading newspapers or magazines [was] far greater than those listening to the radio.

Q5: What kind of magazine and newspaper content was most widely consumed by South Africans?
Peter Langschmidt: Newspaper and magazine content consumed [was] remarkably similar across the socio-economic spectrum and by reading platform, ie online and paper. In terms of newspapers, obviously news [was] the most-consumed topic, and this include[d] community/local news and current affairs. This [was] followed by sport, jobs/ careers and then celebrity news and politics. The most widely read magazine content [was] real-life stories, with celebrities a close second. These topics [were] followed by sport, food and cooking, health and fitness and, finally, fashion and beauty.

Q: How many hours [did] South Africans spend reading on their smartphones each day?
PL: PAMS2019 indicated that the transition from paper to digital reading [has] not [been] as rapid as one might have expected. In the last four months of 2019, around 75% of all reading still took place on paper, down from 85% two years previously. Only one in seven South Africans read both online and paper content, and the number reading digital-only more than doubled between 2017 and 2019 to 9%. According to PAMS 2019, time spent per day reading printed newspapers and magazines averaged just over two hours, at 127 minutes. This was followed by tablet and smartphone at 97 and 95 minutes respectively, while reading on personal computers was 79 minutes. Smartphone daily average screen time [was] about three hours and 15 minutes. Of that, South Africans [were] reading newspapers and magazines slightly below 50% of the time.

Q5: Has the lockdown changed these reading figures at all?
PL: Since the lockdown, unique browsers on news sites [have grown] by 76% to 1.9m, representing a 6% shift of readers to digital platforms over the PAMS 2019 figures above. The data here is supplied by Narratiive, an audience measurement, modelling and verification research house, [which] based their findings on cookie tracking on sites — when the site may be open but not necessarily being read all the time.

Q5: How do South African reading rates tie in with global trends?
JB: The statistics are of major concern. Eight out of 10 Grade 4 pupils cannot read at an appropriate level; 63% don’t attend preschool and 50% have never read a book with their parents. The 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study placed SA last out of 50 countries and found reading scores had not improved since 2011. That said, the UK’s Reading Agency recently reported that only 35% of 10-year-olds in England say they like reading “very much” and that, by the final year of compulsory schooling, the reading skills of children from disadvantaged backgrounds are on average almost three years behind those from more-affluent homes. And in the US, a first-world country, reckons one in four American children grow up not being able to read.

There’s no doubt that, globally, there needs to be a drive to get children (and adults!) reading again. It’s something as the PRC we believe is essential. As much as technology is part of our lives, reading has been impacted by the “distracted” economy. The PRC’s first READ study in 2017 confirmed that readers earn 50% more than non-readers. The majority of people in Socio Economic Measure [SEM] 8–10 grouping read. And reach for print media (newspapers and magazines) by SEM increases significantly from 18% in SEM 1 to nearly 60% in SEM 10. That’s how important a culture of reading is to society.


Carey FinnCarey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with over decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to, her regular column “Q5” hones in on strategic insights, analysis and data through punchy interviews with inspiring professionals in diverse fields.

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