ABC figures have hardly been reported, and the reason is not hard to find, writes Anton Harber on his blog.  The truth is that almost all titles have dropped – and for the first time in many years, overall newspaper sales are down, too.  

Wits University's Anton Harber writes on his  blog:

The quarter ABC figures for newspaper sales have just come out. Normally the newspapers trumpet it selectively and manipulatively (I think this is called spin doctoring: “We are up AGAIN, if you compare our sales to this time in 1983, particularly among our target market of left-handed intellectuals”). But this time there was largely silence. Wondering why?

In general, the pattern was the same across the board: the older, traditional newspapers are flat or dropping; the new tabloids and isiZulu newspapers continue to grow. Daily Sun, always, showed the biggest growth, of over 7 000 daily sales on average to take it to 488 718. With it was Die Son (daily) which grew from 96 000 to 104 000. Also up fractionally was the Daily Dispatch, a credit to editor Phylicia Opphelt (who has just moved back to Joburg to edit Business Times), and the tiny Diamond Fields Advertiser. Isolezwe continued to grow, reaching 97 785.

Down were Beeld, Burger, Business Day, Cape Argus, Cape Times, Citizen, Daily News, The Herald, Mercury, Pretoria News, Sowetan, Star, Volksblad, The Witness.

It is clear which is the longer list, and why these papers largey forgot to report the figures.

Total daily newspaper sales were down – for the first time in years – from 1 925 000 to 1 904 000, roughly.

Among weeklies, the Weekender described itself as the best year-on-year performer, with 15% growth. That is true, but it is off the low base of 11 043, now 12 078. That continues their healthy growth, but begs the question of whether a newspaper is sustainable at these levels. I hope it is, as I like the Weekender, but it is a question which must be asked.

Mail & Guardian, which has seen impressive growth in recent years, dipped back a bit to 47 424. Ilanga also grew to 102 000, showing that the Isolezwe competition is doing it good. Isolezwe’s new Sunday edition debuted at a modest 45 000.

City Press grew fractionally to 198 727. Sunday Times was as level as a pancake at 504 000. It is noteworthy that their subscriptions have not benefited enourmously from their free daily, the Times. Their indvidual subscriptions were at 124 000 two years ago, 118 000 last year and now are at 121 000.

It is the tabloids and isiZulu papers keeping life in the market. For the older papers, things are not looking rosy. I can guess that their readerships are aging every year.

*Harber is Caxton professor of journalism at Wits University.  This post first appeared on his blog, The Harbinger, on Nov 15.