DAILY and weekly newspapers have all lost circulation, except for the Afrikaans daily Die Son, and the Zulu daily Isolezwe, according to the third-quarter year-on-year figures released yesterday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC).

South African newspapers are showing the strain being experienced by media globally . Prof Anton Harber, head of the University of the Witwatersrand's department of journalism , described the figures as the worst he can remember.

While ABC data usually show a drop in the third-quarter with some recovery in the fourth, yesterday's numbers - for the July to September period - were sizeable.

Harber said: "This is the worst decline in our newspaper figures that I can remember. The drop in sales runs across the board, with the exception of just two newspapers, Die Son and Isolezwe ngoSonto.

"It has hit dailies, weeklies and weekend papers, serious broadsheets and racy tabloids, English, Afrikaans and isiZulu. No sector has been spared. It is not huge, but it is strikingly consistent among almost all newspapers."

Harber said it did not bode well for an industry already under pressure due to the drop in advertising revenue during the recession. "Let us hope it is a temporary result of the hard times we are in," he said .

Daily newspapers saw an overall decline in circulation figures of 2,57%. The weekly newspapers showed a slight improvement over the second quarter but were still way below 2007 and last year , showing an overall decline in circulation for the third quarter of 8,92%.

Of the weeklies, only the Post recorded a break-even position while all the others were down on last year's July to September figures.

UmAfika recorded the largest percentage decline of 21,29%, while Soccer Laduma saw the largest numeric decline of 23342 copies.

Weekend newspapers saw an overall decline of 2,55%. According to ABC a new title Sondag Son softened the overall decline. Weekly newspaper circulation declined by more than 115000 copies, compared with a year ago.

Peter Bruce, editor of Business Day, said of the figures: "This is carnage - the worst three months for newspapers I have seen in a long time. If you take away the tens of thousands of copies given away free every day or every week by some newspapers, they are light years below the circulations they claim when they are selling advertising. The recession is doing great damage to print media."

ABC found that Isolezwe ngeSonto had grown 13,6%. The biggest decline was Sondag's 51,25%. Rapport, Southern Cross and Sunday Sun held their positions.

benjaminc@bdfm.co.za