Fast failure of Scoop! a bit of déjà vu for Media24
THE closure of the tabloid Scoop! is a spectacular failure for Media24 and its ability to build on the success of the all-conquering Daily Sun in the English tabloid market.
After barely four months on the street, the print juggernaut pulled the plug on the paper so fast its editor, Peet Bothma, was left wondering what could have been.
Mr Bothma, quoted in a company press release, said: "Tabloids are the future of the newspaper market in SA. It provides a fresh new choice. The question remains what would have happened if Scoop! survived a cut-throat competitive market."
At its launch on October 30 last year, Mr Bothma said extensive market research had shown there was a market for what he called "real true SA stories". He aimed the paper at English-speaking readers who were had become "bored by the Sunday newspapers".
The content mix would offer saucy revelations about South African personalities, hot celebrity gossip, reader opinions and uncensored debate.
There would be coverage of British and European soccer and the website masthead had a picture of boerewors on a braai.
What followed, though, would have sent chills down Media24's collective spine. One insider said talk in the Media Park corridors in Johannesburg was that it had cost the company about R5m in its first few months. This resulted in Media24's company statement being tinged with exasperation: "Scoop! will be closing, effective immediately. The newspaper will not appear again - the last edition was on the streets on 19 February."
Media24 would be not be drawn on the costs. "The expenditure on the product remained within budget during the current financial year. However, based on our forecasted figures, the future outlook was dim," said Minette Ferreira GM for Media24 Newspapers.
"We monitored progress on the product very closely and it became clear from the disappointing sales performance that the product was not viable," she said.
Not viable, after just four months? Surely the business plan was flawed from the beginning?
"Research showed there was a market to test and explore. But, ultimately, the Sunday newspaper market remains hugely competitive and difficult to break into," Ms Ferreira said.
"We had enough time to try a number of promotional circulation drives and although these interventions rendered some movement on circulation it was not enough to meet our objectives. It became clear that the product was not resonating with the intended target market."
For Media24 it was a case of déjà vu. In 2005, it launched the English daily Nova in Johannesburg, aimed at young and upwardly mobile urbanites. It too lasted all of four months before being pulled after failing to gain any traction.
This raises the question: has the English newspaper market become too difficult to crack for Media24 after its initial success with Daily Sun and Sunday Sun?
"The newspaper market, not only the English market, is a difficult nut to crack for all media houses. And may I add that I think we cracked the English market plenty with Daily Sun," she said.
Wits journalism professor Anton Harber said it was part of Media24's strategy to experiment, in line with the Naspers culture of being prepared to take risks.
"I think there is a Media24 philosophy to experiment but when something fails they admit it quickly. You see that attitude in a lot of what Naspers does. They tried something new - good for them for trying - but it didn't work, so they pull the plug quickly."
He said while the effect on the media landscape would be minimal, he was surprised that marketing for the paper was so low-key.
"My surprise is that they didn't seem to promote it much. It seemed a halfhearted effort, it wasn't strongly marketed."
Prof Harber said the paper had also failed to create an identity: "It didn't have as much character as you need for a paper of that sort. I think you need a very strong and distinctive character to stand out and I didn't see it there."
And in a difficult economic climate where established newspaper are struggling to grow and losing some advertising revenue to digital media, the stakes are even higher.
Yet you can be sure Naspers will try again on the back of sensational growth for its "red top" products, though signs in the market show the sector has lost some appeal.
Each of Media24's tabloids has seen declines, according to Audit Bureau of Circulation figures for the fourth quarter of last year compared with a year earlier.
Daily Sun, at 380000, is down 8% year on year; Sunday Sun, with a circulation of 213000, is down 7%; Son, an Afrikaans newspaper with a circulation of 105000, is down 8,1%; and Sondag, an Afrikaans Sunday paper with a circulation of 43000, is down 21%.
Nevertheless, Media24 says it remains open to new product launches. Of course, with the deep pockets of Naspers it can afford to take risks that its competitors at Avusa, Independent and Caxton cannot. "We continuously explore markets and develop products for them. Some work well, others don't. We will continue to look for growth opportunities across the board," said Ms Ferreira.
However, many, including the 13 full-time staff members, will hope that any future endeavours will be more substantial than this flash in the pan.
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