Newspapers losing black readers

Neil Bierbaum

Newspapers are finding it difficult to build black readership in the new South Africa. Despite the demand by advertisers to reach the powerful black consumer market, newspapers seem unable to deliver.

A study of the All Media and Product Survey (Amps) figures for the past five years reveals that black readership of newspaper has declined steadily. Most notable among these are the Sunday Times and Sowetan.
In 1991, according to Amps data, 6,8 percent of black people were reading the Sunday Times. In 1995, this figure was down to 4,4 percent.

Much of this may have been lost to City Press, which is the only newspaper in South Africa with any significant penetration into the black market to have increased that penetration over the past five years. It has increased from 7 to 7,5 percent, although this is down from a peak of 10 percent in 1993. This peak was the result of a scratch card game which was introduced by City Press.

Despite much criticism at the time that the increased circulation and claimed readership was the result of people buying the paper not to read but simply to win the prizes on offer, editor Khulu Sibiya pointed out that it came at the same time as a number of editorial changes. He was confident that the game would attract real readers. So far he is right, although the penetration fell to 8 percent for 1994 and now to 7,5 percent. Researchers at Nasionale Pers claim that City Press’ circulation increase for the first six months of 1995—to 267 550 from 263 917 for the same period last year—will only be reflected in the 1996 Amps figures.

Sowetan has dropped from a 9,5 percent penetration in 1991 down to 7,7 percent. This leaves it inches ahead of City Press as the paper with the highest penetration into the black market. Sowetan is however, still South Africa’s biggest daily newspaper, with an average daily circulation of 208 358 for the first six months of 1995. This is down from 234 096 for the first six months of 1993. In terms of penetration it is far ahead of the next biggest daily, Citizen at 1,7 percent. This is down from 2,9 percent in 1991. The Star is way behind at 1,2 percent penetration, down from 3,1 percent in 1991.

Other newspapers with significant black readership include Ilanga (Monday edition) at 4,1 percent and Ilanga (Thursday edition) at 3,6 percent. These are both down from 1991 figures of 5,3 and 4,8 percent respectively. Before 1993, the paper was published on a Monday and Thursday.

Readership profiles of these titles also reveal a trend away from black readership. While more than 95 percent of the readers of City Press, Sowetan, Imvo, Ilanga and New Nation are black, the Citizen, Sunday Times and The Star have a more multiracial readership.

However, their readership profiles are becoming less black. While 55,7 percent of the readers of The Star in 1991 were black, only 41 percent of current readers are black. Similarly the Citizen has seen its black readership shrink from 60,4 percent in 1991 to 53,9 percent this year, while the Sunday Times saw its black readership profile drop from 41,5 to 35,7 percent over the same period.

* The Mail and Guardian, being a niche newspaper, is not included in the Amps survey.

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