New daily newspaper enters fray

Jul 23 2010 17:20
Tony Koenderman

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Johannesburg - The New Age, a daily newspaper backed by the Gupta family and the Times of India, will launch with an initial print run of 170 000 in mid-September. 

One key differentiator, the shareholders told a press conference on Thursday night, will be its national distribution to every province – a positioning described by the appalling acronym glonaregical (global, national, regional and local).

The philosophical differentiator is a more positive spin on the news. "We'll see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty," said editor Vuyo Mvoko.

"We'll be critical when necessary – but fair and balanced." But he and others were at pains to insist that this does not mean it would blindly support the government or the ruling party.

Bennett Coleman & Company, publisher of the Times of India, the world's largest English-language newspaper, is described as "an important double-digit equity investor and strategic partner". (TOI's circulation of 3.1 million is 160 000 more than The Sun of London.)

There has been speculation that it will be a government- or ANC-supporting paper, because of the ties between the Guptas and President Zuma. Former minister in the presidency Essop Pahad is on the board.

The Guptas arrived in South Africa in the early 1990s and are now big investors in mining and owners of Sahara Computers. They have been big cricket sponsors and named Protea cricket captain Graeme Smith as a contributor to the newspaper.

Another high-profile contributor with limited journalistic experience will be former Miss South Africa Claudia Henkel, who will edit the lifestyle pages.

The 32-page publication will be in "international broadsheet" format (slightly narrower than the traditional South African broadsheet), published six days a week – five weekdays plus Sunday.

It will be printed in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, initially by Caxton and CTP Publishers and Printers [JSE:CAT], but its own presses are on order and should be operational in "a few months".

Its target market (LSM4-10), perhaps unrealistically, covers the full spectrum of the reading public, but its R3.50 cover price may be a bit rich at the lower end of the demographic hierarchy, where the massively successful Daily Sun costs R2.30.

The cover price positions it most obviously against The Citizen (R3), although it would have to offer the Citizen's demographically broad-based readership a lot of extra value to persuade them to trade up, even if the premium is only 50c. But The New Age might eat into sales of The Star, which costs R5.30, if the product appeals.

Its "good news" focus seems to address a public mood of despair about the unremitting flow of bad news in South African media, but it will have to avoid being seen as unrealistically denialist.

But is this a big enough niche to enable New Age's optimistic circulation expectations?

Advertising rates have not yet been fixed, though this may not matter much until the publication has built a circulation viable enough to sell ads on.  A small innovation here is that ads will be sold on a square-centimetre basis, rather than column centimetres.

The traditional rule of thumb is that it takes at least two years before a major new publication can hope to reach break-even. In a newspaper market shrinking under the pressure of the online medium and emerging slowly and uncertainly from tough economic conditions, two years may not be enough.

- Fin24.com



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