Yo ho ho and a bottle of Rum!

Having just re-entered the mediasphere after the Christmas break, I was stirred and more than a little shaken to discover that the ABC has ratified the decision to amend the “50% rule”. The rule which effectively determines that print copies of a published title can only be claimed as paid-for circulation, if the publisher has received no less than 50% of the cover price in the sales transaction.
There will now be no lower limit to the discounted price a publisher may claim as “paid for” by an end consumer. This means, that a title with a cover price of say R35 can dump additional copies on the market at 1c a copy and present figures to media buyers which imply that these titles have been “sold”. At best it’s misleading. At worst, it would have induced a knowing wink from Eschel Rhoodie.
What a massive step backwards for legitimate publishers in South Africa. They must be drinking rum and raising the Jolly Roger on every pirate publishing ship south of Penzance. Particularly in the run-up to World Cup 2010.
To watch the print media’s continuing mission to alienate itself from the broader advertising industry, is deeply concerning. Hopefully by the time the final implosion takes place (and there will be an implosion if the current line of thought gathers momentum, make no mistake about that), the only significant challenge facing me every day will be sailing to the other side of Midmar dam, not having to clean up the mess that pirates tend to leave behind. Real pirates that is, not those cute little ones that Johnny Depp likes to play.
Protagonists of this move will point to fair pricing, as supposedly defined by the Competitions Tribunal, but the price constraint argument is spurious. The ABC certificate is a reporting, not a price control, mechanism. There is nothing stopping publishers from giving away their titles for free and motivating audited VFD certificates.
To quote Gordon Patterson, AMF representative on the ABC Board …
“Rather than levelling the playing field, this decision has the potential to flatten it, obscure the truth and create greater opportunities for abuse. [It] will neither achieve nor advance the objectives of the ABC or the spirit of the Competition Act”.
I remain committed to print media as a viable advertising option but no media planner can support a “lowest common denominator” initiative such as this. But then again, I don’t run a printing press or distribute a free newspaper. If I did, then I might hold a very different view. In fact, I’d be delighted that two decades after the introduction of VFD’s I had managed to devalue the entire currency to the point where legitimate “sold titles” have completely lost their competitive quality advantage over free distribution titles.