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Covid-19 batters SA print media

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Caxton in process of withdrawing from magazine publishing and associated businesses

THE SOUTH African print media industry has taken another hard blow following the announcement that Caxton & CTP Publishers & Printers Limited (CAT) plans to completely withdraw from magazine publishing. 

The board of directors of Caxton, one of the country’s biggest publishers and printers, announced yesterday that it had begun a process of withdrawing from magazine publishing and associated businesses.

The group was the publishing company of long-running magazine titles Bona, Rooi Rose, Garden & Home as well as Country Life, Essentials, Food & Home, People, Vrouekeur, Woman & Home and Your Family. 

The board of directors said in a statement that the decision was informed by the steady and continuous reduction in the overall amount of ad-spend being allocated by advertisers to the magazine media sector as well as the negative impact of the recent Covid-19 lockdown on general economic activity. 

“The high level of cancellations of advertising in the period leading up and over the lockdown period has already had a major impact on trading aggravated by the concern that this revenue will be permanently lost and will place serious extra pressure on the magazine business and the group as a whole. As such, the significantly reduced levels of revenue exacerbated by the potential long-term impacts of the Covid-19 combined with reducing circulation numbers are insufficient to sustain the business in the short and long term,” the board said. 

The group said it was in the process of consulting with its employees and that it would be keen to engage with any other parties and publishers who would be interested in taking over any of its titles. 

CAT’s announcement came one day after popular tabloid newspaper Daily Sun announced that it had ceased all print publishing in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal. 

Last week, Associated Media Publishing, one of South Africa’s most powerful independent media houses announced that it would close shop permanently. The company, which launched in 1983, announced on Thursday that it would cease trading and publishing its magazines including Cosmopolitan, House & Leisure and Women on Wheels from Monday.

Meanwhile, Mail & Guardian made a public plea in March for readers to go out and buy the weekly newspaper and subscribe for online news after the company faced financial distress due to the lockdown. 

The staff and journalists of the Independent Media group also received salary cuts in April due to low advertising revenue during the lockdown. Arena Holdings, which owns Sunday Times and Sowetan, told its staff last week that it would start docking 30% of their salary starting this month.  

Wits University Caxton professor of journalism Anton Harber said the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the deterioration of the print media industry that had been under way for some time. 

“Most publishers would have banked on a 2 to 3-year lifespan for an industry that was going to change or die, but the pandemic has brought the collapse upon us much sooner,” he said. 

Harber said that all print media had been moving to digital for some time, but struggled to make it work financially because advertising worked very differently in digital media, and most of it was being swallowed up by sites such as Google, Facebook and YouTube. 

“Most worrying is that this comes at a time when we have a pandemic of disinformation on top of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Harber said.

The South African National Editors’ Forum also expressed numerous times that it was deeply concerned about the increasing number of media houses which faced drastic falls in earnings.