South Africa is a country with unique challenges that Rika Swart believes her company is facing head-on. Two lessons Media24’s print division CEO has learned from her experiences in 2018 are guiding her in 2019:
- Allow your teams the freedom to unleash their creative power.
- Never underestimate the importance of the culture created by the leaders of the company.
Swart, who joined the INMA’s board of directors this month, takes pride in Media24’s ability to make bold decisions, such as a recent and successful frequency change that includes a hybrid print and digital publishing model, a lifestyle (magazines) division that comes up with creative revenue diversification strategies, and a distribution division that is implementing models that aim to sustain print. The e-commerce solutions offered by the contract logistics team is one of the hidden gems only now realising its full potential.
Media24 is the news media arm of Naspers, a multi-national group of media and e-commerce platforms. Media24 is itself a highly diversified company and South Africa’s leading media house, with interests in digital media and services, newspapers, magazines, e-commerce, book publishing, print, and distribution.
- Media24 News publishes more than 60 titles and about 187.5 million newspapers annually, including South Africa’s second largest selling daily newspaper, Daily Sun, which boasts a readership of more than 5 million a day.
- Media24 Lifestyle is South Africa’s leading player in the magazine industry, publishing more than 60 titles (some under international licensing agreements), including the top four sellers.
- Media24’s digital media division, 24.com, comprises two main news brands: News24 and Network24, the latter being the largest paywall news service in the country. The division also includes a jobs portal (Careers24) and a digital travel agency.
- On the Dot’s services include fixed-route distribution of magazines, newspapers, and third-party subscriptions, as well as the demographically targeted distribution of community newspapers and pamphlets.
- On the Dot Contract Logistics offer a full end-to-end e-commerce fulfillment solutions, predominantly for the retail industry.
- New Media is the most established (since 1998) content marketing agency in South Africa, with specialists in six areas, focused on crafting content for both clients and its own brands.
We talked with Swart about industry topics ranging from frequency to democracy:
INMA: What success within your company are you most proud of at this moment?
Swart: Within the print media division, our newspaper team demonstrated with Die Burger Eastern Cape frequency change — from six days to a print edition only on Fridays and digital editions on the remaining weekdays — that we are not afraid to make bold decisions to keep journalism alive, irrespective of platform, medium or frequency.
We also have a very strong Lifestyle division, and its creative revenue diversification has gained such momentum in 2018 to the point of prolonging the longevity of some titles.
That, combined with innovation at our distribution team (On the Dot), boosted the sustainability of our printed publications.
INMA: The creative revenue diversification you mentioned is also intriguing. Would you mind sharing details?
Swart: Here are examples of some of the initiatives. It varies from events, to online courses, to making movies. The sweet spot is finding a commercial solution that is aligned with the brand and speaks to its audience or an aggregated audience.
What I love most is how these creative solutions are born from a close working relationship between editorial and the commercial teams.
INMA: What keeps you up at night?
Swart: The rate of decline in circulation and advertising revenue versus the time required to scale new revenue and digital solutions.
Our responsibility to keep media alive and flourishing, considering the critical role it plays in the democracy in South Africa, rests on our ability to reinvent ourselves faster and the closer alignment of our print and digital strategies. Time and a strained economy are not on our side.
INMA: What do you see as the big opportunities in 2019 and how are you taking advantage of them?
Swart: We have a unique opportunity to build on the synergies that exist across our publishing divisions: newspapers, magazines, digital, and distribution. Our challenge is to build on these strengths without losing focus on the core business and still maintain the momentum of progress made.
INMA: What is Media24’s biggest idea/initiative for 2019?
Swart: Given the diversity of our products and services, the initiatives vary vastly — by title/property and by division.
From a newspaper perspective, our focus mirrors that of the rest of our peers: exploring new revenue streams and reducing the cost base as we continue to face print circulation and advertising declines.
We have yet to find a silver bullet that solves all our problems and are casting our nets wide to test new ideas and ultimately scale the solutions that gain traction.