Bucking the trend…South Africa’s market leader turns 100

Huisgenoot ()

Huisgenoot, a Media24-owned weekly title, has been outselling other print magazines in South Africa for many decades, with recent figures showing weekly sales of 238,000, a remarkable figure considering the title is published in one of southern Africa’s minority languages: Afrikaans.

Huisgenoot’s ‘sister’ publication, You, an English magazine with similar content, is the second highest selling publication in South Africa at slightly over 130,000 editions sold every week.

Editor Henriette Loubser says during the past couple of years Huisgenoot, in an environment where many magazines battle to survive, has found that its readers remained loyal making it possible to adapt to the requirements of its readers while maintaining not only a strong financial position but also the number one position in the local magazine market.

Henriette Loubser ()

While specific news events – like the Oscar Pistorius murder trial – played a significant role in ensuring relative stability in the sales numbers, she also references a distinct and successful editorial content policy: digging deep to bring readers stories with an emotional core. Whether it involves a local celebrity or getting behind a breaking news event, the secret is to continue finding fresh angles and information that touches the emotions of their readers. And never forget, “Scoops continue to sell,” she says. Getting that exclusive interview with a family member after a family tragedy remains vitally important.   

This is no easy task with a ten day lead time between going to press and delivering the magazine to some of South Africa’s most remote rural areas where many loyal readers reside. “Our team members are extremely creative. Together we have developed a knack to find angles that newspapers have not yet explored.”

To achieve this, you need reporters with special skills. “Apart from the ability to never give up on a story, it is even more important that the reporter has empathy and an understanding of the human angle,” explains Loubser.

Huisgenoot has been criticised in the past for being sensational. But Loubser begs to differ. “Emotional yes. We report on people and their emotions. We put an emphasis on the emotions our market will best respond to. We do not manipulate the facts. That is not sensationalism.”

That said, this task has grown more complex in recent years as the target market in the modern media landscape is not homogeneous any more. “In the past readers watched the same television programmes and went to the same church. These days we sell to a very diverse market. While our readers now have contrasting interests there remains one golden thread: human emotion.”

Loubser says despite strong print sales, they do not live in oblivion to the realities of digital disruption. With 70% of web traffic to Huisgenoot’s website already coming from mobile she is acutely aware of the importance of social media. “Our aim with our digital offering is similar to many other products in the rest of the world: to service our print edition as long as it is possible but at the same time prepare our brand for a digital future. For this reason we have never published any printed content online for free. Whatever we print is exclusive to print.

“At times I have to explain to the team that our approach to print and digital is similar to having two children that you love equally. They also have different personalities. When the sweets get handed out they might both want the same sweet (read: ‘scoop’) but the eldest will get first choice. Usually though, there are enough sweets for both children!”

For this reason the team will create fresh daily digital content “with the same DNA as the printed content”, but with different stories and angles, giving users a different reading experience. “The aim is to keep our print readers for as long as possible and to also draw a new audience online, people who are not necessarily reading the magazine, thereby growing the Huisgenoot brand and total audience. Huisgenoot’s targets for digital success – including advertising targets – are now being set at extremely high levels.”

Huisgenoot is going all bells and whistles to celebrate its centenary. Alongside various festivities, and a movie – a romantic drama inspired by the true-life love story of one of their readers – a special celebratory issue was published with the best stories from the past 100 years. It took 15 months to compile.

Loubser explains that in compiling the celebratory issue they have once again seen that no matter how much things have changed over the past 100 years, the basic pillars of the Huisgenoot recipe remained, but with a different approach and different emphasis depending on the various era’s: news, advice and guidance, glamour and entertainment, lifestyle and living. And of course: Huisgenoot’s very distinct style of gripping storytelling, perfected over many years.

And Huisgenoot in the next 100 years? “Some might question whether the magazine will see a second centenary – I have no doubts that it will – it’s only the format that remains unknown.”

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