The velvet curtain falls: People, Rooi Rose, Bona and more editors on the end of SA's iconic magazines

Illustration. Photo by Getty Images
Illustration. Photo by Getty Images

There’s a sense of gratification that comes with paging through a beautifully curated glossy magazine and taking in content which will eventually be instrumental in moulding your identity post-consumption.

And returning months, maybe years, later to revisit some of your favourite features in an issue that’s starting to lose some of its glossiness and colour – ever so slightly – as if an Instagram filter was applied to the pages as you scroll through.

While the world is reeling from coronavirus, thousands of deaths and infections, another death, that of the magazine industry seems inescapable - a sad reality for those of us who savour the imaginary expeditions and leisure offered by magazine content.

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As a former print magazine section editor, the news of the closure of 38-year-old Associated Media Publishing, that's taken us on fashion, beauty and wellness sabbaticals right from the comfort of our lounges and poolsides, was hard to digest.

Colleagues, fashion and beauty enthusiasts, wellness fanatics and magazine readers in all their diversity were affected too.

Associated Media Publishing CEO, Julia Raphaely, shared in a statement that deciding to halt production of the magazines was the most difficult of her life, and hearing the news was no easier for magazine lovers.

She also shared, “We never thought this day would come, but were left with no choice."

Though many might have foretold the gradual ending (or rather, evolution) of magazine production and consumption, it is indeed true that no one could have anticipated the accelerated effects of Covid-19 towards swift decisions having to be made.

Associated Media's exit will leave a vacuum in the place of Cosmopolitan - which Miss Universe, Zozibini Tunzi, recently covered - House & Leisure, Good Housekeeping and Women on Wheels.

This devastating news was the hand that opened the proverbial can of worms. Just days later, Caxton announced that it would no longer be publishing ten titles, including Bona, Country Life, Essentials, Food & Home, Garden & Home, People, Rooi Rose, Vrouekeur, Woman & Home and Your Family.

Bona is one of the country's oldest magazines, at over 60 years old, while Garden & Home was first published in 1946 and Rooi Rose dates back to 1942.

It’s undeniable, these magazines have set the tune of our lives for decades and now that the music has stopped, and the curtain is falling, it’s more bitter than sweet.

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At the time of writing, Caxton was still engaged in talks to potentially save some of its publications as they stated in a statement that they are keen to engage with parties who are interested in taking over some of the titles.

How wonderful would it be to still be able to browse through an issue of People at the hairdresser, House & Leisure at the doctor's office, pick up some beauty tips from Bona at the airport lounge or dream up new decor ideas as seen in Woman & Home post Covid-19? 

Having transitioned from editing print magazines to digital publishing, to this day, I still refer to well-performing stories as "flying off the virtual shelves."

Magazines are a way of life, a part of us, and I've always been of the opinion that as digital media continues to grow exponentially, print publications are becoming more niche, a luxury commodity if you will. A transfiguration of sorts - that's a far more palatable prospective future.

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Speaking to half-a-dozen editors about the latest developments, many are cognisant of the challenges of the day. Still, most share my sentiments: print is not dead, it's an evolution, a very robust, painful one, but alas, we will come out stronger from it.

Here's what the editors of our most loved, iconic brands had to say:

PEOPLE MAGAZINE - Andrea Caknis

To be honest, I'm still in shock as I really did not see this coming. I've been with people for 28 years, so I'm really gutted about the decision. We not only had people on sale, but five other brands, People Puzzle, Kiddies Puzzle, Royals, How To, and Natural Health.

I've always been very interactive with my readers — especially my older readers who just loved our puzzles. I'm going to miss our chats. Whenever they picked up a mistake, we would always have a good giggle, and I know most of them by name. If it weren't for our readers who consistently supported us, we would not have lasted for so many years, so a huge thank you to them. 

Sadly with COVID-19, the company didn't see a future for us at Caxton. I still fully believe there is room for print publications, I wouldn't have six magazines on sale at this point if I didn't.

As for the future, I will stay in publishing as that's where my passion lies - I can't see myself doing anything else. It's still early days as my mind is doing overtime on how to support my team through this terrible time, but I do believe we will be back. Watch this space!

ROOI ROSE - Martie Pansegrouw

We are a tight, close-knit, and supportive editorial team at Rooi Rose. And we are reeling in shock at the closing down of our 78-year-old flagship magazine. I've been working in magazines for the last twenty years. If you work on a women's magazine, you are so immersed in the world of women that you feel so totally at home. Everything is related to womanhood.

I'll sorely miss that. I'll also miss mixing with women, my lovely, ever creative and impactful team, their intelligent minds, their take on life, enthusiasm and irrepressible spirit, relating to them, talking to them, and exploring what it means to be a woman. Some of the strongest and most amazing women have crossed my path and left their mark on me. 

When a heritage magazine such as Rooi Rose is dismantled, it leaves a huge hole. It will be missed. We have built it up from a twice a month issue to a monumental monthly glossy, and enriched lives in the process. That has got to stand for something, I hope. All in all, I still believe in print! I believe that we are going through a phase where print is not flavour of the month, but the thrill of picking up a beautiful magazine, paging through it, smelling it, setting it aside and getting back to it with so much ease - people still want that. They've just forgotten how much! 

BONA - Bongiwe Tshiqi

I honestly can't remember the first time (or few times) that I came across an issue of BONA. It has been a part of my life for so long that I can't remember not being aware of its presence.

Five years ago, I was given the great opportunity to work at the digital helm of the brand and later become editor. It has been such an incredible journey; it's challenging to put the experience into words. Getting to engage with black women across this country on issues varying from beauty to finance, childcare and everything in between has been enlightening.

We've had the opportunity to unpack issues around representation, ageism, abuse, and HIV/AIDS honestly and openly with our reader directing the dialogue. 

I've worked with the most dedicated team of my career, and I have learnt so much about myself as a leader and a woman.

I'm grateful for this time of my life and will forever cherish this iconic title. Having been read by our grandmothers to our mothers, and now us, I am blessed to meet various women of all ages who share the most incredible stories about how this brand impacted their lives.

I can only hope that served it [Bona] well during my tenure. It's harsh trading conditions for our entire industry, and that means publishing houses have to make tough decisions.

Whether I continue to be part of the brand or not in the future, I do hope that it will find a new home in some shape or form. I truly believe it still has an important role to play in the lives of many SA women. In the meantime, I thank my readers for their support and continued love. It's incredibly humbling.

GARDEN AND HOME - Mary-Jane Harris

I was seduced by magazines very early in my career. As the syndication manager for Republican Press, in those days a large publishing company, my job was to buy overseas photographs and features for our local magazines. One of the perks of the job was that every couple of days boxes would arrive from London and New York.

Inside were all the latest magazines including fashion mags such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Seventeen. There were also celebrity gossip mags like People and US, and all the general interest women’s magazines plus the more serious Science, Time and Newsweek and everything in between. For me it was absolute riches: the distinctive smell of the paper, gorgeous glossy pages to pore over not to mention all the info and advice that you could possibly need or want, all contained in these pages. I read as many as I could before the editors started banging on the door demanding their magazines. And I’ve been hooked on magazines ever since. 

For me magazines have always been about relaxation. They’re best enjoyed lying on your bed or sofa, or on a lounger on the veranda with a cup of tea or a glass of wine. I love their portability, affordability and the fact that you can read them anywhere, anytime. 

But on the other hand, I really enjoy the immediacy and interaction of the digital experience. Images come to life in a way that’s quite different. If I’m looking for information, I’ll go to a website, and I must admit I can get enjoyably lost for hours scrolling through Instagram. However, I still feel that a printed magazine is something that can be savoured and enjoyed at leisure and referred back to. 

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I was fortunate that when Margaret Wasserfall became editor of Garden and Home, she took a chance on me, a totally inexperienced journalist, and I discovered the gorgeous world of décor and gardening, a passion that is still with me. At the time Garden and Home (which was first published in 1946) had a trusted reputation and we built on this introducing décor and practical gardening to the previous mix of politicians’ and socialites’ homes and gardens and made it more relevant to all home lovers. I believe that lovely surroundings enhance your life whether you live on a large property or in a tiny flat. And we’ve always endeavoured to both inspire and satisfy all our readers, no matter where they live, with beautiful photographs and practical information. 

The fact that our circulation has remained steady over the years is proof that our readers still want a print edition. On the other hand, visitors to our website and social media platforms are increasing in number, which shows that there is a growing audience for our digital content. I believe that both can work together to satisfy all types of reader. 

It’s such a privilege to be part of Garden and Home and to work with incredibly talented colleagues and contributors. It’s given me the opportunity to visit beautiful homes, stroll through gorgeous gardens, meet interesting, creative people and bring these experiences to our readers, many of whom are third-generation readers, and who over the years have become like friends. 

I’m convinced that there is still a future for Garden and Home, whatever form it may take.

WOMEN ON WHEELS - Carrie Anne Jane

It's a sad day when a media house like Associated Media Publishing closes, even sadder when it was a pioneer, particularly in having the conviction to open a female-driven motoring title like Women on Wheels (WOW).

However, times are changing, and so is media; the need to innovate and evolve will be a constant in the era of social media. Do I believe that print is dead? No, very much the opposite. It's merely finding its place in an ever-evolving media landscape. Traditional granulated sugar, for example, didn't disappear off shelves with the emergence of the stevia generation, and thus, print, like granulated sugar, will not disappear.

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As for Women On Wheels, it's a sad loss. The motoring fraternity needs to realise motoring titles are traditionally published by men, for men. There is a want for car-related info that's easy to consume, credible, and relational; for those interested in cars but intimidated by the masculine veil motoring traditionally operates under. And that's why many will miss WOW's content. I can only hope that the evolution of WOW's core ethos will appear again somewhere in the media sphere.

HOUSE AND LEISURE - Charl Edwards

My time as editor of House and Leisure has truly been a highlight of my career, and being able to edit such a loved and proudly local title has been an enormous privilege and honour - many sleepless nights too!

The closure of HL will undoubtedly leave a massive gap in the decor landscape, and it's with a heavy heart that we all say goodbye to this brand. Founded in 1993 by industry icons, Jane Raphaely and Sumien Brink (legends!), HL has played a significant and defining role for many in the design industry, myself included.

It has served as a home and launchpad for many in this industry, showcasing the work of architects, designers, decorators, stylists, photographers, writers, chefs, and many more creatives. While it's undoubtedly a huge loss for the industry as a whole, it's also a moment to recognise Associated Media Publishing's role in South African publishing and celebrate House and Leisure's 27 years of creativity and inspiration. My time as editor of HL might have been cut short (thanks Coronavirus!), but the legacy of HL will undoubtedly live on.

What are your thoughts on the future of print media? Tell us here.

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