/ 17 February 2004

Bored sheets

“Hey baby!” drawls the ou in a Kaapse accent, hanging half his body out of the moving minibus taxi. He looks her up and down, then focuses on the tattoo swirling up from the waistband of her jeans to curl around her mid-riff. “Looks like you got slapped with a wet Aaargus!” he laughs, and then sucks on the gap where his front teeth used to be as the taxi zooms off.

Amira, a 19-year-old student from Grassy Park, is unfazed by the comment, she doesn’t really get it anyway, just smiles and keeps walking. Like many young people in South Africa, Amira doesn’t look at newspapers. And it’s not surprising, since none of the dailies run content specifically targeted towards attracting the youth market. The majority of them rely on the variety of their news coverage and the generic entertainment, gossip, listings and lifestyle sections to be widely appealing enough to capture the youth.

Independent Newspapers, the largest stable of newspapers in the country, attracts just 15 to 20% of their readership in the 16 to 24 age group across all their regional daily newspapers (The Star 19%, Cape Argus 17%, Cape Times 15%, Mercury 11%). Nail’s Sowetan does marginally better, with just over 23% of its readership in the 16 to 24 age bracket. The trouble is that daily newspapers make up their youth market penetration through follow-on readership (dad buys the paper and junior checks the sports and the tonight section).

“I only read the Sunday Tribune – mainly the arts, movies, shows section,” says Liselle, a bright eyed, 20-year-old, Durban socialite. “I will read the rest if the picture catches my eye, or if it’s not too morbid! The world has enough of that.”

Matt, a young surf punk found scowling over the window displays in the Cavendish Mall, responds similarly: “I read the Cape Times but only on Friday. Mostly for the entertainment and cultural supplements.”

Obviously the performance of South Africa’s only national daily newspaper, ThisDay, is interesting in this regard. It has only been available for three months and there is little research available, but it is worthwhile noting that the newspaper positions itself towards “politically and economically engaged South Africans from the age 25 plus—” So once again, the only engagement with young people is the vague hope that some of them will be ‘aspirational’ readers.

The weekly Mail & Guardian has a readership of 248 000 (Amps 2003b), of which just over 12% fall into the age bracket 16 to 24, although their readership is said to be determined by mindset rather than any demographic. When asked if the newspaper directly targets the youth market, arts editor Matthew Krouse answered: “Well 20 to 24 possibly, certainly those over drinking age – because we have the most comprehensive gig guide in the country, that rounds up all the music gigs in the three centres, Gauteng, KwaZulu and the Western Cape. Beyond that there is no exclusion of the youth in the content we present. From stories on local hip-hop to film and music reviews it is very important that we engage youth culture as well as popular culture. Other sections of specific interest to the youth market would be the M&G‘s Career and Tertiary supplements.”

Out of all the newspapers in Msanzi, the Sunday Times has a far better record of engaging the youth market directly, not just through the wide variety of their content and the tabloid pulp on the Back Page. The Sunday Times Magazine‘s features are directly targeted towards the 16 to 24 market and they publish youth orientated educational supplements such as Activate, so it is not surprising that their youth market share makes up 25% of their 3,5 million readership (Amps 2003a).

Adding to this youth coverage, the Sunday Times also carries the loveLife publication S’camto which, despite its half-baked content and somewhat confusing Aids awareness message (is Aids a lifestyle or is it a brand?), must in some way serve to directly engage the youth reader.

But the most interesting youth publication packaged with the Sunday Times, and probably the biggest thing to hit the youth market through newspapers in South Africa, is the Supa Strikas cartoon series.

Supa Strikas is a serialised soccer comic that centres on the action and drama of a top local soccer club,” says Strika Entertainment CEO Oliver Power. “The goal is to provide socially responsible, relevant and uplifting content that encourages people of all ages to follow their dreams and work hard to succeed.”

Interestingly they sell advertising in a similar way to product placement in movies. The result is unobtrusive marketing to a media saturated and savvy youth market acutely aware of – and bored with – traditional advertising.

“We don’t sell ‘advertising’ but instead sponsorship packages that are akin to sponsorship arrangements with ‘real’ clubs, such as Vodacom’s sponsorship of Kaizer Chiefs. Our sponsors are included in the fabric of the story and they receive exposure in exchange for the sponsorship funds.”

And the Supa Strikas circulation is huge – it is distributed through newspapers in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Uganda and Kenya and is sold directly in Zambia and Nigeria. Throughout Africa it has a circulation of 990 000 copies and a readership of around 10 million, which is quite simply staggering.

Following a similar model is the Black Mamba comic series, produced by outdoor media company Altmedia. Samson Sabandla, the no-nonsense boxing icon at the centre of the series, is seen by Isolezwe readers every Tuesday, readers of the Indabazethu supplement of Daily Dispatch on Wednesdays, and Sowetan readers on Fridays. That makes for almost 2,5 million local readers weekly.

FREE 4 ALL is a youth newspaper that has also innovated new ways of reaching the young end of the South African market. Based on an educational platform (the newspaper’s purpose is to encourage teenagers to read), it is delivered free to over 300 high schools across the country – ranging from private to township schools.

Seugnette Comber, FREE 4 ALL‘s publisher, argues that because the title manages to trigger a 10% written readership response every month (consisting of 25 000 responses), advertisers are immediately interested in their captive and highly responsive audience. “This allows FREE 4 ALL to print 250 000, 48 page, full-colour tabloid newspapers and deliver them free to high schools across the country every month,” says Comber.

“It’s win win. The schools are delighted to find a product that the teenagers respond to and actually read. The teenagers have a publication that they have a strong sense of ownership over – and they really look forward to its arrival.”

However as far as mainstream newspapers go, Greg Potterton from South African youth trend forecasters, Instant Grass, argues that young people tend to use newspapers in radically different ways than would be expected.

‘The majority of kids aged between 16 and 24 will be getting their news from different mediums: the radio, internet or television. Where newspapers are important to this sector is the listings of what is happening and the classified sections, looking for things they may want to buy, places to rent, job opportunities, and the like. I think you will find the classified sections and dedicated papers like Junkmail, Cape Ads and Autotrader have much larger youth readerships than would otherwise be expected.”

Cape Ads confirms this, with 24.2% of their readership between the ages of 16 and 24 (ABC Jan-Jun 2003).

Khumo, a 21-year-old hip-hop fanatic, concurs: “I’ve started reading the Argus – ‘cos I need to check their classifieds. Apart from that, it’s the Sunday Times, ‘cos I’ve grown up reading it – and it has a lot of variety. It would be nice if it had a classified section. Anyway, I hardly read the papers because I normally have other things on my mind.”

Pride, a bright young mind, studying marketing at Tuks agrees: “The most frequent newspapers I read are Job Mail and Junk Mail, if those count?”

That young people in South Africa largely snub the mainstream newspapers is to be expected – the spread of dailies consistently fail to direct any of their regular content or column space towards them. Which makes the environment ripe for a daily paper that takes the youth market, and its advertisers, seriously.

**Additional research conducted by Instant Grass youth trend forecasters www.instantgrass.com

Andy Davis is former editor of SL and currently full-time freelancer and surfer.