South Africa’s Print Magazines are Dead — Long Live the Magazine!

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The “latest” Audit Bureau of Circulations of South Africa (ABC) figures for Q4 2017 contain few surprises with magazine numbers declining over Q3 and over the prior year.

According to the ABCs “Report 90.0” presentation of 14 Feb 2018, total Magazine circulation in South Africa declined by 8.1% on the previous quarter, and by 16.6% over the prior year. Consumer Magazines decreased by 5.8% on the previous quarter but increased by 1.4% over the prior year, while B2B Magazines declined by 0.5% on the previous quarter, but increased by 2.7% over the prior year.

The Consumer Travel Magazine category saw an increase of 12.6% on Q3, but a decline of 3.3% over the prior year, while Custom Leisure magazines declined by 6.6% over Q3 and by 6.4% over the prior year.

Perhaps more telling of the state of magazine publishing in South Africa, are the ABCs member statistics, which saw 7 new titles gained against the loss of 11 titles for the year.

In the digital arena, only 105 members (11.2%) submitted website traffic data and 46 members (4.9%) returned email newsletter data — this out of a steadily declining membership of 930 for 2017.

So, do the ABCs stats reflect the true state of magazine publishing and circulation in South Africa? I think not. And, here’s why:

Back in the early days of publishing my own travel trade magazine (2003–2011), I’d go through the tedious process of submitting print and distribution stats to the ABC and undergo their arduous annual audit process. It was a reasonably simple process, seeing as we only printed and distributed around 3,500 copies regionally (within southern Africa and a few copies to the UK).

And then my magazine went international and totally digital in 2012. That’s when the ABCs wheels fell off. Their antiquated audit system could not cater for digital page impressions. Creating a simple click-tracking code for members to embed on the pages of their digital magazines seemed to be beyond their auditing ability — and seven years later, it still is.

Since then, my digital magazine has grown in readership by over 200,000 (opens) thanks to being circulated via six international magazine distribution platforms with a collective user-base exceeding 410 million*. And for readers who still crave the feel of glossy paper between their fingers when they flip pages, single or multiple copies can be purchased via indigo print-on-demand at a reasonable price through most of the distribution platforms.

Sure, it’s still an arduous task to gather readership stats from each of these distribution platforms, and they are crowded with thousands of media titles, but it’s a numbers game — one need only gain a fraction of user followers to see a massive improvement in circulation stats.

Long Live the (digital) Magazine!

*Claimed user stats for ISSUU (80m), Magzter (30m), and PressReader (300m).

Travel & Motoring Journalist specialising in Africa.

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