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Local newspapers show strength in Covid crisis

People want to know about what’s happening in their communities and advertisers are starting to take note.
Local papers now make up 79% of newspapers distributed in the country. Image: Shutterstock

Local newspapers are unusual in the media landscape in that many consumers specifically read them for the advertising as well as the content.

Whereas advertising in broadsheets, magazines and on TV and radio is tolerated by consumers, readers in contrast specifically look for the deals on offer in local newspapers.

Robyn Bishop, head of marketing at Spark Media, says the idea that community newspapers exist to provide information on local deals is so ingrained that it’s not unusual for consumers to phone up the paper to ask why they did not receive a supplement from a particular retailer.

It must then be gently explained to them that the supplements are placed in the paper at the discretion of the retail chain, which is something the newspaper merely facilitates.

Bishop says this kind of behaviour is unusual, as up to 70% of readers consume local papers to “help make shopping decisions”.

“It’s comparable to people watching television for the ads or visiting a website to click on the popups.”

Spark Media, a division of Caxton & CTP Publishers and Printers, is an advertising and media solutions and sales company. It represents Caxton-owned local newspapers, as well as selected independent publications in sub-Saharan Africa.

This need to know where to go to get a good deal, along with the consumer’s desire to know more on what’s happening in their neighbourhood, has powered the rise of local newspapers into a powerhouse in the South African media environment.

An uncommon bond

Bishop says one of the big advantages of local papers is that people don’t have to make an effort to get them. Unlike with most other publications, consumers don’t have to leave their homes to obtain an edition, as the paper is delivered to them directly on a regular schedule.

This is a powerful combination, as it means that consumers have a bond with a publication that provides information to them, be it the latest deals or local news, that they can use to their advantage.

The strength of this connection with consumers cannot be underestimated.

Even during the Covid-19 crisis, community newspapers have shown their resilience. In the first quarter of 2021, an average of 4.88 million local newspapers were regularly distributed. In contrast, 1.3 million daily and weekly newspapers were distributed over the same period.

This means local papers now make up 79% of newspapers distributed in the country.

All news is local

Though there has been a lot of talk about the imminent demise of print media, Bishop says local print media has seen a renewed relevance in the wake of the Covid crisis.

She says there was a noticeable change in the kind of information people wanted during the lockdowns.

Instead of wanting to know about how the pandemic affected them on a global scale, they wanted to know how it impacted them directly, in terms of issues like where they could shop and what was happening at the local schools.

“As we started living through lockdowns, we started to realise that the only things that really impacted your day-to-day lives were the things going on in your immediate surroundings.”

The figures coming from the Audit Bureau of Circulations of SA (ABC) shows that the distribution model, which sees the publications arrive at readers’ homes on a specific day of the week, gave them a special role in the lives of people during the pandemic.

Good for brands

Though the power of the local paper has been clear to many business sectors such as retailers for a while, those that have not considered it are starting to take notice.

Bishop says some high-end consumer brands, for instance, would have been hesitant when it came to considering advertising in local papers in the past, but are now more open to building their brands in these publications.

She says many brands are starting to grasp that the people they advertise to in daily and weekly newspapers are the same people who read local papers. In fact, local papers have an even greater reach as they are read by people who are not reading hard news.

“You are actually reaching a wider group of people.”

Even though there is a shift by some of the larger brands in the country in appreciating the power of local papers, this is still an evolving trend.

Despite this, Bishop is encouraged by what she is seeing, with the trend gaining momentum as Spark Media opens new categories of advertisers in local papers.

Brought to you by Spark Media.

Moneyweb does not endorse any product or service being advertised in sponsored articles on our platform.

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