It is commonly assumed that many of South Africa's daily newspapers, and particularly its broadsheets, are in a bad way. For a newspaper to maintain its paid circulation - year-on-year - is regarded as something of an achievement. And for it to increase its circulation is regarded as a major victory. Gill Moodie recently observed on this website that the Cape Argus and Durban's Daily News may well be shut down in the next five years.
In order to get a better idea of the state of the newspaper market Politicsweb pulled together the available Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) data for average net sales of daily newspapers from the 1st Quarter of 2006 to the 2nd Quarter of 2011. We excluded bulk sales, travel & commercial subscriptions and print media in education (PMIE) sales as these can have a distorting effect when analysing trends and making comparisons. We focused solely on the core circulation of the newspapers: a combination of copy sales and individual and business subscriptions.
What the ABC data shows
Table 1 below shows the change of circulation between the 2nd Quarter of 2006 and the 2nd Quarter of 2011. 16 of 19 daily newspapers recorded declines in their circulation over this period. Die Burger saw the biggest decline in core circulation (31,3%) over the past five years, followed by the Daily News (27,7%), Cape Argus (27,3%), Beeld (26%) and Business Day (23,9%). The Citizen managed to stem a decline in its circulation by cutting its cover price. At R3 today it costs less than it did in 2006 (R3.10) - a cut of about 30% in real terms.
The only three newspapers to show an increase were the Diamond Fields Advertiser (off a very low base), the Zulu-language tabloid Isolezwe, and Die Son. The starting figures for Die Son are from the 4th Quarter of 2006 as this was when it was launched as a daily (having previously been a weekly.) Its core circulation peaked at 124 572 in the fourth quarter of 2009, so it is 15,3% down from that.
Table 1: Changes in core circulation of daily newspapers in South Africa between 2nd Quarter of 2006 and the 2nd Quarter of 2011.