Africa's top publisher to close South African publications, cut jobs

The headquarters of Media 24, owned by intenet, entertainment and media group Naspers, in Cape Town, South Africa, May 11, 2015. [REUTERS]

South African media and e-commerce group Naspers plans to lay off more than 500 employees and close a number of newspapers and magazines, including leading weekly tabloid the Sunday Sun, its print division Media24 said on Tuesday.

“For many of our print titles the benefits of prior interventions to offset the structural declines and keep them on the shelf no longer exist and they’ve run out of options in this regard,” Media24 CEO Ishmet Davidson said in a statement.

Media24 is Africa’s largest publisher, printer, and distributor of magazines and books, and is also the continent’s largest newspaper publisher with around 3,000 employees across eight divisions.

The company said it would shut down one other national paper, four community newspapers, and four national magazines while outsourcing the majority of its monthlies and halving the frequency.

Its 70-year-old Drum Magazine, one of Africa’s first Black lifestyle publications, will move online.

The layoffs and closures come in the wake of planned job cuts at public broadcaster the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), and similar moves at other members of the country’s “big four” print publishers - Arena Holdings, Caxton and Independent News.

Since the pandemic hit in mid-March followed by a national lockdown, print publications have taken a hit of between 40% and 100% to advertising and sales revenue, forcing many to migrate online where they earn a fraction of their former ad sales.

The South African National Editors Forum said in June around 50,000 people employed in the printing sector could be affected by newspaper closures. National unemployment is at a record 30.1 per cent.

“The writing’s been on the wall for the global print media industry for years,” said Dinesh Balliah, media studies lecturer at Wits University, adding that more closures locally would follow with newspapers struggling to monetise online content.

“South Africa has managed to buck the trend for a while given its high data costs, which made good quality news sites difficult to access while newspapers remained relatively cost-effective. It really isn’t looking good.”

In Britain, Daily Mirror owner Reach RCH.L on Tuesday announced it would cut about 550 jobs, or 12 per cent of its workforce, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit circulation and advertising at its national and regional newspapers.  

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