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Johncom may have a winner in the Times

Johncom, soon to be renamed Avusa, has for the first time released details about the cost of its two new print titles, the Weekender and the Times.

The company spent R33-million from April to September improving its online offerings and launching the two new titles, CEO Prakash Desai said during the company’s interim results announcement on Thursday. The Times, which is distributed free to Sunday Times subscribers, accounted for R21-million, or two-thirds, of that.

R21-million is a lot of money, but also much less than some of the sums that have been bandied about. Although not profitable in its own right, Desai said, the Times had brought in 20 000 new Sunday Times subscriptions. That is a considerable commercial benefit for its owner, and although Desai may be optimistic in his projection of a profitable newspaper within three years, I think we are looking at a winner.

For one thing, after some initial hiccups I get it delivered to my doorstep before I wake up every morning, and in out-of-the-way Grahamstown that is no mean feat. It is a light read, a bit like an online news site on paper, with short news reports and not much in the way of in-depth reportage, comment or analysis. But then, who has time for in-depth journalism before breakfast? The Times gives you a decent overview of the day’s news in about 15 minutes. If I were still living in Johannesburg, I doubt I’d still be reading the Star.

One gripe I have with the Times is that the deadlines seem to be very early. Sport stories, for example coverage of England crashing out of Euro 2000 in Friday’s paper, are often a day late — you get a distinct sense of déjà vu reading the sports pages. But considering the distribution logistics involved in getting the newspaper to a wide range of readers throughout the country, that is a small price to pay.

As for the Weekender: I rarely get to see it, but when I do, I love it. But what do we make of Desai’s statement that it had “increased its circulation comfortably above 10 000”? How much exactly is that? And is it enough to make the Weekender financially viable?