A Love Affair with Magazines: Crowded, But Loved, South Africa’s Women’s Interest Magazines…May 11, 2014
Women’s Magazines In South Africa Are A Growing Market And When It Comes To How The Industry Has To Function To Keep Them That Way – The General Manager Of Women’s Interest Magazines at Media 24 – Has The Answers – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Liezl de Swardt.
“But the move is definitely just not to digital, the move is to people thinking: I don’t have time for someone or something, meaning a magazine, which doesn’t understand me or bring me something that is really useful.”… Liezl de Swardt
The market for women’s magazines in South Africa may be crowded and it may have undergone drastic changes over the years, but there is one thing for certain when it comes to the country’s readers: they do love their magazines.
Liezl de Swardt is the general manager for Media 24’s Women Interest Magazines in South Africa and is the one with her fingers on the pulse of the women’s market there more than anyone else. On a recent trip to the country, I chatted with her about the market, print versus digital and a host of other topics that are important to their audience, plus the future of women’s publishing in the country and what she’s doing to keep women’s magazines growing there.
So sit back and be prepared to enjoy the informative and eye-opening Mr. Magazine™ interview with Liezl de Swardt, General Manager, Media 24…
But first the sound-bites:
On the women’s market itself in South Africa: We have a very crowded market, but also a very long history of excellent magazines.
On print versus digital in the country: While all of our developing titles also have mobile sites and they’re very successful, it’s not like Time Magazine, ours are something you might read while you’re sitting in a taxi having a quick look, but the print magazine is the big currency.
On the future of women’s magazines in South Africa: I’m a half full type of girl, so I always say the glass is half full. But our biggest challenge is to rethink the way we’ve always done business.
On the major stumbling block she has faced: Our biggest stumbling block would probably be we think the advertisers will come back or the readers will come back. Nothing will just come back.
On her most pleasant surprise: The biggest excitement for me is unlocking niches. There are still areas of incredible excitement and interest. And we have an ability to get quickly in there.
On what keeps her up at night: The immense responsibility that I feel about the legacy brands that we have and how to sustain them in the future.
And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Liezl de Swardt, General Manager, Women’s Interest Magazines, Media 24…
Samir Husni: Can you tell me a little bit about the women’s magazine market in South Africa?
Liezl de Swardt: We have a very crowded market, but also a very long history of excellent magazines. And the traditional population that loves their magazines read a lot. But over the last 10 years the market has changed dramatically. Our general interest women’s glossies that were always the very big ones have declined in circulation. There was a lot of new interest in the market, mostly licensed. They came in about 10 years ago and a lot of them have now exited the market.
So over the last two years the market has contracted quite tremendously to the point where we are now left with a few traditional mass market glossies at the top, a sprinkling of licensed titles that have contracted a lot and the only area where we are seeing some really exciting growth is right at the lower end, so nothing glossy. Only the very practical, very direct and very focused magazines on, not niche in terms of small, but niche in terms of a very tight focus on very specific groups, for example we have Kuier, which is a bi-weekly magazine aimed at a mixed race audience, it’s quite a tight focus and our fastest growing title.
On the other end of the spectrum, focusing on black women, we used to have, or we still have, True Love, which is a big iconic title and it is contracted whereas Move! is much cheaper and it’s weekly, very practical, very salacious and growing rapidly.
Samir Husni: A lot of people think print is something from the past and digital is becoming the mainstay, but you’re telling me something different…
Liezl de Swardt: South Africa is a developing country and we basically have three countries in one. At the top end, we have a large penetration of digital devices and we also have a large population who’s not necessarily becoming first-time readers, but first-time magazine buyers.
Whereas the developing market has moved on from the top magazines that we worked on when we came into the industry about 20 years ago, those magazines are very useful for a whole lot of new readers.
And while all of our developing titles also have mobile sites and they’re very successful, it’s not like Time Magazine, ours are something you might read while you’re sitting in a taxi having a quick look, but the print magazine is the big currency.
Samir Husni: How do you view the future of women’s magazines in South Africa? As one of the top publishers in the country; if someone asks you – is the glass half full or half empty?
Liezl de Swardt: I’m a half full type of girl, so I always say the glass is half full. But our biggest challenge is to rethink the way we’ve always done business. On the glossy side, while the African market is much more balanced in terms of circulation versus advertising income, the glossy magazine market is definitely funded by advertising income and circulation income was secondary to that. With tremendous pressure on advertising income, we have to cut our cloth accordingly to put into what we can attain through circulation income, which means being more cautious of our spending, in terms of what we spend I production, also sometimes contracting our market by putting cover price up.
So I think the future for us is more expensive, luxurious titles for the top end, whereas we have a title like Ideas which is focused on people who love doing crafts and creative things, we don’t get advertising for the magazine, well, we do, but very, very slight, it’s very expensive editorial to produce because it’s original crafts and we nearly doubled the cover price, but we lost in circulation. And I think that’s the kind of thing we’ll have to do in the future.
About five years ago we were doing a lot of things to satisfy advertisers and not necessarily the readers. The future of magazines is to satisfy the readers’ very specific needs and if we satisfy them, they’ll either pay for it or advertisers will want to get to those readers.
And the same principle applies to the bottom end of the market because if we do things there that advertisers want, then it’s not right for the market. If we do things right for the readers, there’ll be loads of them, and then advertisers can’t ignore them.
Samir Husni: So what do you think is the major stumbling block in this strategy?
Liezl de Swardt: The stumbling block for us is to be incredibly sober about titles, the brands and practices, meaning the way we’ve always done things and to ask: is this the right way for the future, because not all of the brands that we’ve had are always sustainable for the future. Or the way that we’ve done it has always been sustainable for the future.
In some instances it would be about the general interest glossies, but I don’t think just general interest is ever going to work anymore. In order to capture people’s attention we just have to be much, much stronger on the bottom end in terms of exactly what we deliver.
So if we think it will never be business as usual, we cannot think, but oh, it used to work in the past. Our biggest stumbling block would probably be we think the advertisers will come back or the readers will come back. Nothing will just come back.
But the move is definitely just not to digital, the move is to people thinking: I don’t have time for someone or something, meaning a magazine, which doesn’t understand me or bring me something that is really useful.
Samir Husni: And what has been your most pleasant surprise during this transitional period?
Liezl de Swardt: The biggest excitement for me is unlocking niches. There are still areas of incredible excitement and interest. And we have an ability to get quickly in there. We’ve been in the industry for a long time and we used to think: oh, we plan something and we recruit an editor and we plan that maybe in six months’ time we’ll put out a magazine, for example, Lose It! was an idea and less than 60 days later, we had our first issue out on the street. No extra team, nothing; it was just get it out there. And I think our success will be about using our existing expertise in teams and acting very quickly on what could been seen as fads or trends, but things now have to be done immediately. You can’t set a goal for three years from now. If it’s good, it’ll work immediately. If it’s not good, it’s not going to work anyway.
So we have to be a bit tougher on ourselves and less tough on the market.
Samir Husni: How many titles do you oversee?
Liezl de Swardt: 40 brands, which is about 26 magazines.
Samir Husni: And my typical last question; what keeps you up at night?
Liezl de Swardt: The immense responsibility that I feel about the legacy brands that we have and how to sustain them in the future. Because we have extraordinary brands that have been around for many years and the world’s magazine archives are full of iconic brands that died or were phased out. And I don’t want to be that one who messes up one of our archive brands.
Samir Husni: Thank you.
© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, 2014 All Rights Reserved.
Truth in Reporting: Media 24 Magazines in South Africa, is a media company that I consult for. This interview is not related to my consulting role, but rather giving my readers a better understanding of the magazine and magazine media marketplace in South Africa. This is the third of four interviews.