COVID-19 pandemic delivering a death blow to print media

The writing has always been on the wall for newspapers and magazines that resisted the digital world but now it seems COVID-19 has speeded up the inevitable with the demise of two high profile magazine publishers.

Caxton & CTP Publishers  & Printers Limited announced this week that they were shutting down their magazine division and put out a call to anyone who wanted to take over titles such as Bona, Country Life, Garden & Home, People, Rooi Rose,  Woman & Home, Your Family and others that have been around for decades. .

This Caxton bombshell was preceded by a week with the news that one of South Africa’s most professionally run magazine operations, the Raphaely family’s Associated Media Publishing, was shutting down and putting an end to titles such as Cosmopolitan and House & Leisure among others.

So, what happened?

Well, it’s something that has been happening slowly but surely for decades now. Many magazines could not be converted to online  because their readers wanted the feel and comfort of a leisure-time magazine in their hands.

Quite understandable because reading a magazine on a PC or laptop just doesn’t work with continually having to enlarge sections of pages and so on. The result has been a dwindling of readership as production costs and advertising rates soared and cover prices subsequently rose to the point of magazines have become a luxury item for the country’s middle class.

On top of that, what has been happening to print media for a long time now is that the average age of those who prefer to read hard copy newspapers and magazines has been rising to the point where, to put it mildly, they’re beginning to die off.

Meanwhile, very few consumers under the age of 50 actually read physical newspapers these days, although they do buy specialist magazines on occasion.

The vast majority have grown up getting their news, entertainment and sport from the online platforms.

This trend is going to continue until inevitably there will be no more printed newspapers or magazines and everything with be online. Particularly as mobile devices become more sophisticated and data costs are reduced.

There are of course, magazine publishers who have prospered if only because they not only adapted to the online environment years ago but have the kind if content that is pretty much perfect for an online audience.

Take, for example, Car Magazine, one of South Africa’s most successful specialist titles. While sales of its physical magazine have dropped drastically in the past decade few years, Car Magazine enthusiastically embraced the online environment early on and is now one of the best examples of print/online transformation.

Interestingly enough until a few years ago Caxton actually had a controlling stake in Car and Getaway Magazine through owners, Ramsay Media. However, this majority stake was bought out by Highbury Safika Media.

It is always sad to see any business fail but when it comes to print media, years of denialism and clinging to business models of the good old days – now long obsolete – has resulted something the print media has been warned about for years. To a large degree, they have themselves to blame.

Chris Moerdyk (@chrismoerdyk ) is a marketing analyst and advisor and owner of Moerdyk Marketing with many years of experience in marketing and the media as well as serving as non-executive director and chairman of companies.