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New Age, old tricks

The New Age has finally released some sales figures, though they are of dubious credibility.
The 20-month-old paper says it has "commenced a process of circulation auditing and verification", but still does not talk of joining the Audit Bureau of Circulation, the industry verification body, and therefore one has to treat all its claims with caution.

This is significant because without verified sales numbers its main sources of advertising - government departments and parastatals - are on difficult legal ground when trying to justify their expenditures. It is hard - if not impossible - to argue that public money is spent appropriately on sponsorship and advertising if there are no figures to demonstrate it.

The New Age press release last week said it had shown an "impressive 206% growth, according to the SA Advertising Research Foundation. This is based on audience research rather than sales figures. It said it now had an average daily readership of 107,000. It also claimed "an impressive increase in subscribers" - but gave no numbers at all.

So how many copies were actually sold?

The newspaper said it printed and circulated 100,000 copies across the country, and presumably this is daily. It says that its "audited" circulation for February 2013 stood at 86,654 "for paid and free copies". This is of dubious value not just because it has not been through the standard verification process, but because there is no breakdown of how many copies are actually paid for. Certainly it gave away large numbers at airports, parastatals, universities and on the streets - so the bulk of these are probably giveaways.

Furthermore, it is not very meaningful to give one single month's figures, as sales from the months before and after this can easily be pushed into that month's accounting. The figures will not mean much until one can see a verified pattern over time.

The New Age said in its media release that it was "driven by a new approach to newspapering" and was in "determined pursuit of an innovative approach to editorial and advertising". But hiding your sales figures is not very innovative. In fact, it is a practice as old as newspapering.

About Anton Harber

Anton Harber, Wits University Caxton Professor of Journalism and chair of the Freedom of Expression Institute, was a Weekly Mail (now Mail & Guardian) founding editor and a Kagiso Media executive director. He wrote Diepsloot (Jonathan Ball, 2011), Recht Malan Prize winner, and co-edited the first two editions of The A-Z of South African Politics (Penguin, 1994/5), What is Left Unsaid: Reporting the South African HIV Epidemic (Jacana, 2010) and Troublemakers: The best of SA's investigative journalism (Jacana, 2010).

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