South African websites: Who’re the Big Fish?

South Africa’s online publishers pulled in about 3,5-million unique users or readers and about 106-million page impressions in the month of August. It’s the first time we have been able to get this kind of overall picture of the industry and measure the big publishers together on the same, powerful statistics system, with this level of detail and accuracy.

We know now that we have two publishers far ahead of the pack. They are Media24 and Independent Online (IOL), both drawing in more than a million readers each. The statistics show that IOL is the country’s biggest online publisher, with about 1,2-million monthly readers, and that Media24 is not too far behind. The nearest challenger is M-Web, which sits some way off with less than half the leaders’ readership.

While these are big numbers, at this time it’s still unclear what percentage of the readers are from outside the country. Overseas readership may vary from publisher to publisher, depending on strategies and exposure to international search engines or overseas sites. Of course international traffic is not entirely wanted: it may serve to ramp up a site’s overall readership numbers, but these users are both a difficult sell to local advertisers and a source of nasty bandwidth charges. It’s one of the reasons Media24 blocked off parts of its site to users outside South Africa, insisting that they pay before they surf.

That said, the new statistics system, powered by Nielsen/NetRatings, which recently acquired Red Sheriff, now provides advertisers, marketers and the online publishing industry with demographics and statistics on a level never seen before on the local web.

Any advertiser subscribed to the system can, for example, measure demographics such as age, education and income group — or even what percentage of users visiting a site on any particular day, week or month owns a cellphone. They can then instantly benchmark these demographics against the industry average or any one of the competitor sites on the system. This all happens in real time. An advertiser can also see who the players are in any particular content category such as IT, travel, news or finance.

Not surprisingly, the demographics confirmed what we knew before. They paint a picture of an online readership that is highly educated and in the top income brackets. The largest percentage group of internet users (about 24%) hold post-graduate degrees and about 20% of users hold bachelor’s degrees. A sizeable 64% of users surveyed have a diploma, or an associate, bachelor’s or post-graduate degree. Almost 20% of users – by far the largest group in the household-income category – are in the top earnings bracket (total annual household income of R400,000 a year or more). About 57% of users surveyed own the houses they live in (which includes paying it off!). As much as 94% of the users have cellphones.

Finally, not all publishers are represented on the system yet, so the figure of 3,5-million unique users should climb even further as more sign up. And a further readership increase could be on its way as the Telkom monopoly comes to an end, which will probably mean cheaper call prices and thus cheaper internet.

Matthew Buckland is the editor and manager of the Mail & Guardian Online @

1 Independent Online 1,231,841 13,567,301
2 Media24 (News24, Wheels24, Women24…) 1,057,960 21,985,862
3 M-Web 468,608 15,425,027
4 Ananzi 460,463 9,440,415
5 Supersport Zone 443,041 17,745,949
6 368,720 10,330,831
7 Mail & Guardian Online 238,332 1,878,087
8 Johnnic Communications (Sunday Times) 224,320 1,464,793
9 CareerJunction 144,823 5,987,274
10 Tiscali 140,565 1,044,126
11 Moneyweb Holdings 124,026 1,556,356
12 BDFM Publishers (Business Day, Financial Mail…) 122,145 933,126
13 Moneymax 98,263 1,925,428
14 365 Digital Publishing 63,113 840,468
Not all publishers are at this time represented here: IT Web, Ramsay, Son & Parker,, Creamer Media (Engineering News etc.) and are missing.

Matthew Buckland: Publisher