Weekend paper wars begin in KZN

Media 24, Naspers’s print arm, has launched an assault on rival Independent Newspapers’s dominance of the Durban newspaper market.

Under the title Weekend Witness, the Pietermaritzburg-based Natal Witness has introduced a Saturday paper aimed at Durban, the coast and inland KwaZulu-Natal. Weekend Witness aims to build circulation through an emphasis on quality editorial.
Editor John Conyngham, also Natal Witness editor, said the title “speaks to thousands in KwaZulu-Natal who want a vigorous and outspoken newspaper. This need is not being adequately catered for, which is why the Durban titles [of rival Independent Newspapers] have seen their circulations haemorrhaging.”

Circulation of the Independent On Saturday, Conyngham’s major opponent in Durban’s Saturday market, has dropped from 81 025 for January to June 1998 to 56 073 for the same period this year. The Independent group’s KwaZulu-Natal division — also publishers of The Mercury, Daily News, Sunday Tribune, Isolezwe and Post — has an annual turnover of R450-million, making it one of the province’s biggest businesses. It is this revenue, a significant percentage from Durban advertisers, that Media 24 covets.

Weekend Witness‘s management claims Durban advertisers clamoured for space in the first editions. A press release said the September launch edition carried a 20-page property supplement supported by Durban and Pietermaritzburg estate agents. But Independent Newspapers‘s KwaZulu-Natal advertising director, Brian Porter, appears unfazed.

“No advertiser in the Weekend Witness is not in our papers,” he contends. “We don’t see the Weekend Witness as a threat. They’re giving the papers away free in Durban, which must be costing them a fortune. We want to see what happens when that stops.”

Distribution on the first three issues of Weekend Witness was 100 000. Marketing manager Dave Erasmus says it’s too early to speculate on circulation, but that he’s aiming for 300 000 readers. That will not be easy to reach. The readership of the Independent On Saturday is 303 000, according to Amps 2003A, meaning Weekend Witness must hit the same circulation as its competitor — around 56 000. Aimed at LSMs 6 to 10, and therefore unlikely to draw many new buyers, many of these sales will need to be lured from the Independent.

If the assault on the Independent fails, the Weekend Witness will need to fall back on markets outside Durban. But the Independent seems confident. “We’re not getting into discount wars,” says Porter. “We believe our paper is the better buy for Saturday.”

Kevin Bloom is editor of The Media magazine. His Media Weekly column provides regular analysis of the media industry

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