SUNDAY TIMES - She may be the famine or the feast ...
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Sunday Times Business By REA KHOABANE, 2017-04-16 00:00:00.0

She may be the famine or the feast ...

Women’s magazine sales in South Africa have been shrinking for at least a decade.
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Khanyi Dhlomo, the owner of Ndalo Media, is - despite declining circulation numbers - taking a bet on women's magazines with the acquisition of the local licence to publish ELLE.

The 71-year-old ELLE brand, which originated in France, focuses on fashion, beauty, health and entertainment and is celebrating 21 years in South Africa.

Locally, ELLE was published for 16 years by Times Media, now known as Tiso Blackstar, the publisher of the Sunday Times. It was then bought by Isiko Media, owned by Gisèle Wertheim Aymés .

Its new owner, Ndalo, is a 100% black-owned company.

"What attracted us to ELLE was that we don't have a fashion brand like many other publishers do," said Dhlomo.

Ndalo Media owns Destiny and Destiny Man, which focus on successful black men and women, and Sawubona, SAA's inflight magazine.

"I think ELLE has the potential to do more and as a company we love print," said Dhlomo.

Even so, print appears to be in terminal decline as more and more readers migrate to online content.

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations of South Africa, total magazine circulation fell 11.7% in the fourth quarter of 2016 from the same quarter in the previous year.

Trade magazines - which include such titles as the African Energy Journal, Harvest Magazine and SABI Magazines - declined 1% over the same period. However, circulation of custom magazines - those linked to a retail brand, such as Edgars Club Magazine - increased by 2.2% over the prior year.

Overall in 2016, 952313 women's magazines were sold, falling from 1171558 in 2015. Two women's magazines - Grazia and Lééf - closed down.

Another casualty in the local magazine market in recent years was Oprah Winfrey's O magazine.

ELLE is one of 22 magazines in South Africa's general women's category, which in turn is included in the consumer magazine category.

Last year in the October-to-December quarter, the total circulation of ELLE spinoff ELLE Décor was 22705 compared with the previous year's 22793.

ELLE magazine, which sells for R35 a copy, dropped to around 27000 in the fourth quarter of 2016 from 30002 in the corresponding quarter in 2015.

Over 10 years the decline is even more pronounced. In the fourth quarter of 2006 ELLE sold 54507 copies - and 10 years later, in the fourth quarter of 2016, it sold less than half that. This decline was similar across all women's magazines, where sales dropped from 1.65million to 926269 over the same period

Dhlomo, said: "There's a challenge in the print market, but we are a company that believes once you've established a brand and what you buy into, then you leverage that in various platforms.

"I believe there are many things you can do with ELLE and the power it has," said Dhlomo. "The licensing of the ELLE brand is broad and covers beyond print - its online platform is very strong. What we're planning to do with it is give the international brand a local flavour."

Even with print media sales declining every year and magazines shutting down, Dhlomo is optimistic that the ELLE brand will do well under Ndalo.

"We think as a company we can increase the sales of ELLE because we've done it with our own publications," said Dhlomo.

"With that being said, that's not our No1 priority. We want to at least maintain the sales and maintain circulation. I think maintaining is the new growth," she said.

Independent media analyst Chris Moerdyk said people who invested in print media ought to be admired. Ndalo Media was a well-structured company that didn't only run on print, he said.

"Given how they've maintained their current magazine titles, I have hope ELLE will do well under Ndalo."

Moerdyk said the company was taking a risk, but big publishers had already shown that international titles in the local market were doing well.

"While some magazine titles are dropping sales, you also find the ones that flourish. It all has to do with the quality of content you give your readers."

However, he said, those in print media must remember that people didn't have the time to sit and read - and that magazines were an expensive luxury.

Dlhomo said she believed print was not dying, but shifting and becoming part of an ecosystem of platforms that allowed the consumer to interact with a brand "that they love, admire and respect, any time, anyhow and anywhere".

Dhlomo, who has been in the media industry for 25 years, said the days of easy profit for the print publication industry were gone. "Companies need to have a positive and powerful purpose and that has to do with content."

With the millennial generation as ELLE's target audience, the ELLE brand made sense as a business move, she said.

"We'll be providing content that caters for 21-year-olds to 25-year-olds, as they are the future. As a company we promote and feel very strongly about black excellence, businesses, entrepreneurs and career-driven people."

She said that even though the company valued locally generated brands and promoted mainly black success, "we'll remain useful to the traditional white reader while we remain equally relevant and useful to the new African millennial market".

Being a black company did not mean talking only to a black market, she said. "We're at a point in our country and development where black people can create content for other race groups as they have for us in the past.

"With ELLE we're going to be clear: what is it that we celebrate as Africans?

"However, we feel the global values of ELLE magazine are very important - so someone sitting in Europe, Japan and America, when they're reading ELLE South Africa, they must feel this is part of the ELLE global family."

khoabaner@timesmedia.co.za