What digital revolution?

27 May, 2008 at 7:56 am 3 comments

Last year, while a few New Media lecturers (read digital evangelists) in the Rhodes Journalism department were sporting cool t-shirts that said “Print is dead”, my Writing & Editing lecturers (read print loyalists) were citing figures about increased newspaper circulation and proclaiming that online news will never replace the print medium.

Since changing from writing to a new media specialisation this year, I’ve been on the hunt for one of these t-shirts. Not to wear right now though, but just to keep in my closet and pull on when the time is right.

Let’s face it: South Africa is nowhere near a digital media revolution at present. Not when only about 11% of all South Africans have Internet access. Not when the majority of the people in this country are struggling to afford the basic necessities, let alone an ADSL line or 3G modem. Not even when 83 out of 100 South Africans have mobile phones, but not necessarily the airtime or the technology to surf the Net. And not when more people are reading newspapers.

Still going strong
The Audit Bureau of Circulation’s figures show that South African newspaper circulation has increased by a small margin between 2006 – 2007. The circulation of daily newspapers has grown by 2.7%, weekly papers by 5.4% and weekend newspapers by 4%. The latest All Media and Products Survey results are also impressive: there are 14 572 million newspaper readers in the country, and 46.8% of South Africans over the age of 16 read a newspaper.

It seems print is not dead;it’s alive and well.

However, one must consider the bigger picture of Living Standard Measures (LSMs) and demographics when thinking about South Africa’s print newspapers and their digital editions. SA’s leading daily, The Daily Sun has almost five million readers, whose monthly household income is around R4 541. Compare this with the 467 000 Mail & Guardian readers, whose monthly income is about R14 598 – or Business Day readers, who have R18 953 a month in household income. I’m not saying that a print newspaper’s readers are also its only digital newspaper’s readers, but the point is that those who have disposable income to spend on an Internet connection are mostly middle-class, educated, employed citizens who prefer a particular type or quality of media. This explains why the Mail & Guardian and Business Day have online websites, and The Daily Sun doesn’t… yet.

Internet boom
According to the AMPS and Online Publishers Association (OPA) reports, Internet usage is on the increase too, but what’s most interesting is that South Africans are using it to consume media, not just Facebook.

News24.com is South Africa’s most popular website on the OPA’s Top 10 list, with more than 1.1 million unique browsers since March this year. That’s a growth of a whopping 44% since March 2007!

The other online news website to make the list is Independent Online (IOL), with 585 000 unique browsers, up 15% since March last year.

Local news websites dominate the list of the fastest growing websites in South Africa. The Engineering News, Mining Weekly, Carte Blanche, Sowetan, and SundayWorld websites have registered a user increase of 100% or more during March 07 – March 08.

These impressive figures are great news for SA’s digital media, because it means more people are consuming and interacting with their content.

Social media and access
The increased popularity of local online media is due to the fact that they’ve realised the importance of Web 2.0 and social media for traditional journalism. It’s simple: in order to attract more web users, news sites have to offer them more than inverted-pyramid style stories… and even more than multimedia news.

So they’ve brought on the blogs ( M&G’s Thought Leader and Tech Leader, News24’s blogging portal), bookmarking (Laaikit, Digg, Del.icio.us), a bit of citizen journalism (readers can submit pics and stories), q-&a services (Answerit) and of course, the inclusion of a comments box for readers to have their say.

Both M&G and News24 have jumped on the social networking bandwagon and created Facebook applications so users can read the latest headlines on their profiles. They’ve gone mobile too, by delivering breaking news alerts, weather reports, and even the lotto numbers to users via sms.

Die Burger has gone a step further by instituting a web-first policy, which sees them break their news stories online instead of in their print edition.

All these strategies are working well, but, at the risk of sounding like a tape on rewind, they’re only available to the five million of us who have the option of accessing them.

That’s a digital divide, not a digital revolution. And definitely not a digital democracy.

When South Africa’s internet access statistics begin to rise as high as its fuel and food prices, then I’ll throw on my “Print is dead” t-shirt and not feel like a pretentious idiot for wearing it.

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Twittering your breakfast – and the earthquake in China Hiatus

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Pam  |  9 June, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    What a great post! I followed the link here off your Twitter profile (hello 🙂 and I’m glad (albeit slightly envious) to see that the quality of work coming out of Rhodes is WAY better than when I was studying there, um, a long time ago. Actual research in a blog post! I’m impressed.

  • 2. bloggingsocialmedia  |  10 June, 2008 at 9:04 am

    @Pam: Thanks 🙂 I bet they also drilled sourcing and verification into you when you were at Rhodes.

  • 3. Tongue-Tickle  |  26 June, 2008 at 7:49 am

    hi there, i think you’re the same qudsiya who’s commented on my blog 🙂 … i stumbled upon your blog from twitter!

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