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How to attract the casual buyer

Take a look at this rack of newspapers and magazines at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta airport taken yesterday.

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Which of the magazines or the papers do you think the casual buyer will pick? And how do you think he makes his decision?

If you think the buyer would pick Newsweek and the Jakarta Globe, you are absolutely right.

Buyers are usually attracted to a product, or any product for that matter, first of all by its design.

Newsweek has a very effective cover with the word, BUY, in caps and big, bold type on a bright yellow background while the Jakarta Globe looks a lot more classy than The Jakarta Post.

Colour experts know that yellow is a very powerful colour which can be spotted from a long way away. The reader’s eye will always be attracted to the colour no matter what. And besides, the headline is very simple, clear and powerful especially because of the current economic crisis.

So despite being tucked behind BusinessWeek and Time magazines and slightly overlapped by the bold red cover of Fortune, Newsweek still stands out by the sheer power of yellow.

As for the Jakarta Globe, a recently-launched broadsheet in Jakarta designed by James de Vries, it is clearly streets ahead of the boring design of the Jakarta Post although it looks like a cross between the UK’s Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, down to the space between the lead headline and the start of the story.

The Post looks distinctly old-fashioned with the badly done typewriter-style masthead. Placed next to the Globe, it tells the reader “we’re old, tired and boring”.  I wonder why editors at the Post refused to change the masthead when it recently redesigned.

The Globe’s dual-colour masthead, on the other hand, says it is a more modern paper than the Post. The colour skybox above the masthead adds another dimension.

As for the content, it has fallen into the classic new newspaper trap. With acres of space due to the lack of advertising, it has resorted to large photos (sometimes bloody awful ones) and very lengthy stories. More often than not, there are three or four stories to one blank page!

There is little by way of other story-telling devices which research shows help readers understand stories a lot better, and originality of ideas. There is a daily Eye Witness page with HUGE (and I mean huge) photos, a rip-off from NRC Next, The Guardian and lots of other papers. On Saturday, there were two pages devoted to Eye Witness.

And oh, the name Eye Witness has been used to death.

I said to someone in Jakarta I would give the Jakarta Globe two years max to get a steady stream of revenue before the billionaire owner James Riady pulls the plug because no matter how deep one’s pocket is, there comes a time when commonsense (which isn’t very common) takes over from pride (which apparently is why he wanted to have an English-language paper, rather than altruistic reasons).

But I hope the Globe makes it because the newspaper industry in Indonesia badly needs a shake-up.

When is news news? 24 hours later?

Do newspapers truly, fully, completely, unmistakably understand their readers?

I dare say the answer is no. But few will readily admit that.

If they did, newspapers would not be in the kind of trouble they are in now.

Consider today’s issue of Weekend Argus, a broadsheet in Cape Town owned by Tony O’Reilly’s Independent Newspapers Ltd.

Spread across seven columns on the top of Page 1 is a story that is more than 24 hours old – “Tsvangirai injured, wife killed in car crash” it says in 48 pt bold.  The trouble is that the crash took place on Friday morning and was the top breaking news all over radio and television and the internet all day.

Weekend Argus

Tens of thousands of readers would have known about how a truck crashed head-on into the car carrying Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his wife to a rally in his hometown.

But Weekend Argus added absolutely nothing new to the story. No graphics, no photos, no new information, no nothing!

But that is typical of many newspapers today. Editors are remiss to ignore the impact of radio, TV and the internet on how they should treat the news, especially in such an important story as this.

What should have been in the next day’s news? How about graphics of how the accident happened? Where was Mrs Tsvangirai seated? Was there any suspicion of foul play? Perhaps even speculation that this could be an attempt on the life of the new Prime Minister? And a whole lot of other questions….

I wonder what Editor Chris Whitfield was thinking about when he decided to run this story with absolutely nothing new.  Did he expect all or most of his readers NOT to have known about it and therefore thought it necessary to publish the story as if it was being reported for the first time?

If that were so, I’m afraid he is living in the dark ages!

The same can be said of The Times, a tabloid which carried a story about Australia’s cricket team playing a Test match with South Africa in Durban.

The headline on the back page of The Times on Monday March 9 said: “Hughes piles on the agony, makes history.”

Very outdated, I must say.

Yesterday, at the hotel lobby, there were lots of people watching the match. During the day, radio had a live commentary and the news was on TV in the evening.

Everyone knew that Phillip Hughes had made a historic double century during this Test and that South Africa was in trouble.  Yet the paper saw it fit to run the story as if no one knew about it.

Is it any wonder that newspaper circulations are dropping?

A diehard reader

How many newspaper readers can be considered diehards?

Here’s definitely one:

Avid newspaper reader at Johannesburg airport

While checking in at Johannesburg’s new airport last week, I caught sight of this man reading the Daily Star, an English broadsheet.

The man, who looks to be in his 50s, stood in the middle of  the walkway engrossed in the paper which he had folded into half, most likely because South African broadsheets are huge, measuring 55cm in height and 36 wide.

He read the story, turned the page and continued looking at his paper for more than five minutes, undeterred by the noise and the people walking by.

This is the type of reader all newspapers would love to have.

In my travels, I love taking pictures of people reading or not reading newspapers. Most of them have been people in their 40s and above and males. Sadly, very very few are people in their 20s or 30s.

No prizes for guessing why.

The daily star of Johannesburg

One newspaper in South Africa that appears to understand its readers is the Daily Sun, a five-year-old tabloid in Johannesburg.

When you walk into the Daily Sun’s office, a life-size mannequin holding a copy of the day’s paper is there to greet you.

He is what the paper calls its typical reader.

The mannequin is a black man holding a copy of the racy tabloid.  He is in his mid-20s, a blue-collar worker or one earning about 3,000 rands (US$300) to 5,000 rands a month. He reads and speaks good English although his mother tongue is one of the 11 official languages of South Africa.

The Daily Sun’s typical reader

The Daily Sun is the brainchild of Dion du Plessis, a hulk of a man who doesn’t mince his words. It is the largest English-language paper in the country with a circulation of more than 500,000.

Daily Sun is a very racy tabloid with sensational stories.  There is always a Page 3 girl. A bikini-clad one I saw a few days ago is said to be “fully clothed”.

The Daily Sun mixes colloquialism and some African languages with English. “Wife lashes nyatsi” screams the headline in the picture above. Nyatsi is the husband’s mistress/girlfriend/concubine or whatever you want to call her.

And that’s probably why it reaches out to such a wide spectrum of readers. A majority of its readers are blacks, but increasingly, coloureds and whites are also reading the paper (see below for explanation about how South Africans refer to the different races).

Stories are very short and written very simply but effectively although there is an overuse of the exclamation mark.  I counted 42 of them in the headlines in one 36-page issue recently.

The Daily Sun is so successful that its owners, the Media24 group,  has launched an Afrikaans version of it. How successful it will be is left to be seen. But I suspect it will be a hit.

PS: South Africa is the only place I know where people refer to each other by the colour of their skin. They are referred to as whites, coloureds (mixed),  blacks and others (such as Asians) – a holdover from the apartheid era.  People are not offended or coy about calling a dark-skinned person a black unlike politically-correct America.