Dhlomo closure a wake-up call for media in SA
The surprise closure of Khanyi Dhlomo's Ndalo Media, publisher of Destiny and Elle, is a symptom of SA's struggling magazine industry, hit by falling circulation figures as younger readers turn to social media platforms for their fashion, celebrity and health news.
The trend has seen the rise of new digital-based players, and the fall of old publishing houses that have failed to make the digital leap.
The business models of some of the world's leading publishers have been shaken up. In the case of Ndalo, the loss of its contract to produce SAA's in-flight magazine Sawubona is thought to have made the business unsustainable.
In October, Associated Media Publishing (AMP), which publishes Cosmopolitan and House & Leisure, decided not to renew its licence to continue producing women's magazine Marie Claire locally.
In the US last month, Condé Nast, publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, announced the end of its monthly print edition of women's magazine Glamour. The company cited a print circulation of 2-million readers for Glamour, which reaches 20-million on the online platform.
Julia Raphaely, CEO of AMP, told Business Times: "The magazine industry has been totally disrupted by technology and has struggled to adapt and change fast enough."
Raphaely said publishers today are operating in an entirely new landscape with a breadth of opportunities to engage daily with their audience over multiple platforms, versus once a month or week, as was the case in the past.
She said AMP's focus would remain on serving women readers.
"Women are the greatest consumers and as long as advertisers and publishers make it easier for them to shop with their fingers online instead of their feet, they will remain loyal and engaged."
A look at magazine circulation data for SA paints a worrying picture. From total magazine sales of 2.4-million copies sold across the industry for the period January to March 2016, the number has fallen to 1.7-million copies for July to September 2018, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations of SA (ABC), which audits numbers submitted by all print media owners in SA to calculate national sales.
The data shows that Ndalo Media's publications have kept their readership steady, but Elle Magazine, which it published under licence, showed a decline between 2016 and 2018. Dhlomo wasn't available for comment at the time of publication.
Apart from digital disruption, the industry also faces rising production costs for print and a depressed macroeconomic environment in which consumers have less disposable income to buy items such as magazines. Delivery problems in the postal service have exacerbated the situation.
But, as dire as the picture seems, industry veterans such as Nigel Twidale, MD of Media Action, a media sales and marketing company, say there's hope.
"Print is not dead," said Twidale.
Pointing to the value of investing in print businesses, Twidale said: "Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos are not clowns. They are investing in print businesses and have even opened up book shops."
The business model has to evolve, said Twidale, who is working with titles such as the Economist, Financial Times and Forbes International.
He said reading patterns around the world are on the rise, with adults and adolescents in Europe and the US now reading more than in recent years.
According to Twidale, readership for magazines structured around a niche topic such as sport, raising a family or business have kept their readership numbers steady. General magazine titles, however, are in decline.
Magazine publishers have shifted their business model for advertising to create packages that include TV, radio and social media in addition to the print offering.
Earlier this year, AMP and Thumbtribe Digital Agency came together to create ampDigital, a mobile-first digital agency that brings together content creation and digital distribution.
Despite the bleak outlook, "South African advertisers still see magazines as a reliable advertising medium and will not abandon the platform quickly", according to PwC's entertainment and media outlook for 2017 to 2021, with digital advertising seen as the growth area.
The move to close down Ndalo is a rude awakening for SA's magazine industry. Business models need to change, technology needs to be better leveraged and new skills need to be brought into publishing houses.
Publishers need to keep generating compelling content that serves as a worthy value proposition for engagement in the digital age. The mindset of traditional media needs to change from viewing the audience as simply readers to seeing them as consumers of goods and services.
"I would hope to see the key industry players in SA sitting around a table and working together to look at how to really future-proof the industry," said Raphaely, bemoaning the lack of an industry body looking after the interests of the magazine media industry.
AMP believes that all publishing focus should be on how to build transactional engagement and is using its Content to Commerce strategy to create opportunities for exchange across different mediums, offering better return-on-investment prospects for the future than those based purely on circulation and print, said Raphaely.
"Any media business worth its salt should have diversified its offering by now to include live events, all online platforms and e-commerce," she said.