Death of newspapers in South Africa – and the rise of the internet


Newspaper circulation in South Africa has plummeted over the past decade, while news websites have seen incredible growth.

South Africa’s Latest Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) newspaper circulation figures painted a bleak picture of the future of print publications.

Most major newspapers saw a sharp year-on-year decline, while the ten-year change was disastrous.

The circulation of one of South Africa’s largest daily newspapers, Daily Sun, has fallen by 89% over the past decade.

Other dailies, such as The Star, Son, Sowetan and Beeld, also saw significant circulation declines of between 70% and 81%.

Circulation of weekly newspapers followed a similar trend.

South Africa’s largest newspaper, the Sunday Times, has seen a 75% decline over the past ten years.

None of the major weekend newspapers were spared. The circulation of Rapport fell by 70%, that of the Mail & Guardian by 79%, that of the City Press by 86% and that of the Saturday Star by 91%.

The table below gives an overview of the evolution of the circulation of South African newspapers over the last ten years.

Daily newspapers
Newspaper 2011 2021 Change
daily sun 381 127 40 164 -89%
The star 144 113 27,417 -81%
Son 105,486 20,588 -80%
sowetan 120 207 29,252 -76%
Beld 74 105 22,160 -70%
The citizen 70 112 27,492 -61%
Business day 36,087 15,297 -58%
Die Burger 61,669 29,800 -52%
weekend newspapers
Newspapers 2011 2021 Change
The Saturday Star 103,767 9,120 -91%
Municipal press 149,586 20,920 -86%
Sunday world 150,925 30 100 -80%
Courier and Custodian 48,016 10,265 -79%
Sunday time 463 156 116,012 -75%
Sunday stand 85 131 22,005 -74%
Report 241 286 72 184 -70%

Readers move online

Readers who previously bought newspapers have moved online and now get their news from News24, BusinessTech, TimesLive and IOL.

Over the past decade, South Africa’s most popular online publications have experienced exceptional growth.

BusinessTech saw the most explosive growth, increasing its readership by more than 10,000%.

TimesLive grew by 982%, News24 increased its readership by 527%, and MyBroadband gained 441% more readers.

The table below shows the increase in readership of major South African online publications from 2012 to 2022.

Best Online Publications
Websites 2012 2022 Change
BusinessTech 62,409 6,421,183 10189%
SchedulesLive 510,742 5,524,753 982% 2,049,835 12,861,524 527%
My Broadband 545 155 2,949,203 441%
IOLs 1,137,288 5,880,000 417%
SowetanLive 484,943 2,393,507 394%
msn 1,011,325 2,062,664 104%
Supersport 601 300 838 989 40%

The impact on the South African media industry

Falling newspaper readership and online migration are nothing new, but the pandemic has accelerated it.

Many die-hard print fans stopped buying newspapers when the pandemic hit and searched for breaking news online.

The sluggish economy has also impacted ad revenue as companies search for the most affordable ways to reach users.

With the decline in readership of print publications and the higher return on investment of online advertising offerings, marketing budgets allocated to magazines and newspapers have plummeted.

This has forced many South African magazines to close and newspapers are now struggling to make ends meet.

Although inevitable, the migration from print to digital has had a serious impact on the media industry.

Cheaper, more effective online advertising is great for businesses looking to reach readers, but media companies are paying the price for this change.

Money that would previously have gone to newspapers now goes to Google and Facebook, and only a small portion goes to online publishers.

So there is less money to invest in journalism, especially investigative journalism, which is expensive and resource-intensive.

Many people in the newspaper business chain, including editors, designers, printers, newsagents and delivery people, are losing their jobs.

The good news is that online publications have started offering subscription services to fund their efforts, which works well.

Netwerk24 has increased its paywall subscription by 13% over the past year to 80,900, while News24 has had 41,000 subscribers since implementing a paywall in August 2020.

So we’re coming full circle where people are paying for their news again – like with newspapers – albeit at a much lower price.

Read now: News24 and Netwerk24 boost subscriptions – raking in R11m a month


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