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How is this still a thing? Property Press flourishes during print's demise

The rise of the internet has changed the way we advertise and seek houses. Or has it? Property Press is still hitting the streets weekly, with more editions than ever before. We take a look at the history of the catalogue with general manager Jason Hussey to see how it's managed to stay afloat in the twilight years of print.

By Caitlin Salter | August 3, 2018 | features

Walk down most main drags in New Zealand and you’re likely to come across a box filled with the latest Property Press – some people even opt to have it delivered directly to their door. The catalogue has been a staple of the property market since its first Hamilton edition in 1978.

Despite the popularity of the internet and the ease in which property listings can be advertised cost-effectively, Property Press remains a must-read for Kiwis looking to buy, or even scoping out the market for the future.

With about 14 million copies produced every year, Property Press certainly hasn’t become any less prolific as it approaches middle age. In the North Shore alone, 8,000 copies are voluntarily picked up each week. General manager Jason Hussey says unlike other players in the print industry, there are no plans to slow down, or move to a web-focused model.

“We don’t think we’re a dinosaur.”

Start of an empire

Property Press was founded by media business giant Barry Colman a year after he started Liberty Publishing in Hamilton in 1977. Initially designed to service the Hamilton housing market, it quickly gained traction as something with nationwide appeal. This meager beginning was just the start of what would become Colman’s publication empire. It was a stepping-stone for Colman, who in 1991 famously purchased the heavily indebted National Business Review off Fairfax for $1 and immediately changed it to his preferred format as a weekly title. He remained the publisher of NBR until selling for an undisclosed sum in 2012.

Just as NBR was the first genuine pay-walled news website in New Zealand, the Property Press was the first of its kind in this country: a pictorial real estate publication. From it’s first Hamilton edition, it quickly increased the number of editions to its current line-up of 11 weekly and three fortnightly editions. In 2001, Colman sold Property Press to Kerry Packer’s ACP Media and it is now a division of Bauer Media after the German media company purchased ACP in 2012.

Property Press’ most recent addition to the lineup came in 2016 when it launched the Franklin edition – a nod to the changing times and Auckland’s ever-expanding commuter boundaries. Its coverage also spans the North Shore, central Auckland, east Auckland, south Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Lake Taupo, Taranaki, Manawatu, Wellington, Nelson, Canterbury, Lakes District and Otago.

Property Press is technically a catalogue, rather than a traditional magazine, and contains listings from licenced agents across New Zealand, as well as market insights and trends. Back in the early days, Property Press was printed in black and white on newsprint before spot colour was added in the 1980s. Full colour and its distinctive glossy style came later.

Hussey says other than some changes to the printing style and design, Property Press has stayed pretty close to the original formula in the last 40 years.

“The overarching purpose has remained the same. We are the only true national standalone real estate catalogue.”

Aside from the property listings, Property Press also included a feature on market research for the last seven years. The research programme, conducted by Horizon Research, seeks trends in the market. At the moment, Hussey says that quite low stock levels are leaving a lot of buyers looking when not many are selling.

“That sort of thing does impact our pages, but it’s important to note New Zealand is cyclical in our market. The stock levels are going to be challenged and the prices will be flat for the next 12-18 months.”

Keeping on top of market trends is important, Hussey says.

“We consider ourselves in the real estate industry rather than in publishing. We try and keep a handle on the market and what people are doing and we share that information with our readers and real estate customers.”

Property Press general manager Jason Hussey

Steady readership

According to research commissioned by Property Press and conducted by Horizon in 2017, Property Press is being read by more than 800,000 New Zealanders each month, putting it ahead of daily and local newspapers’ property sections readerships as well as real estate agent’s magazines. According to the research, respondents who are definitely looking to buy in the next 12 months see Property Press as more essential and important than any other property print media option.

However, research by Roy Morgan does tell a different story, putting Property Press readership at more like 145,000. These results still put the magazine at ninth place in print readership out of 100 magazines. AA Directions takes the lead in New Zealand, followed by the New Zealand Woman’s Day.

Hussey says about 100,000 copies are picked up each week, and the weekly editions run for 49 weeks every year.

“It is predominantly buyers picking up the Property Press, but we do home delivery as well. They are mostly voluntarily picked up and flicked through while having a coffee. New Zealanders are fascinated by residential real estate.

“You have a conversation with anyone these days and it is weather then property, or property then weather. A lot of the research we do shows New Zealanders are aspirational – they’re looking for ideas, which is why the gloss and the nice pictures are so important.”

So who is reading the Property PressHussey says that one of its target markets is the people who didn’t realise they wanted to buy a home – which is as many as 14 percent of real estate sales.

“About 10,000 sales happen by people who weren’t looking to buy in the first place. The Property Press appeals to those people. The pretty pictures and easy-to-use nature of it mean people are more inclined to stop and flick through it.”

While Property Press has grown with the addition of new publications, the numbers have stayed largely consistent over the years. Hussey says part of the reason it stays so steady is because it’s not attached to a larger publication, many of which are struggling to stay afloat.

Steadfast in print

According to the Roy Morgan research, the New Zealand Herald’s print readership dropped by 104,000 between December 2016 and December 2017, down to 786,000. Similarly, The Dominion Post dropped 22,000 readers to 306,000 in the same timeframe. As newspapers struggle, Property Press is ready to fill in the gaps.

“We control our own distribution so we’re not beholden to a daily paper to get our issues out there. Some of the challenges the traditional mediums have is that they require page subscribers to buy copies – but that’s not our angle.

“We’re free so can hold the circulations consistent.”

One big change since the first edition is how the property listings make it into the catalogue. Initially, real estate companies paid for the listings, in the same way advertising space is sold for magazines and newspapers. With the advent of vendor funding, those listings have become a lot larger, and as Hussey says, a lot more relevant to the readers.

“What we’ve got is a collection of most of the listings in each region, so we’re a wider cross-section of the market than an individual agent can produce.”

While real estate agents release their own catalogues, and many newspapers include property pages, Hussey is adamant there is a place for Property Press.

In fact, there are actually plans to grow Property Press as regional newspapers, such as the Marlborough Express and Manawatu Standard, struggle. Previously a daily paper, the Marlborough Express was cut to just three days a week in 2017, and the Manawatu Standard’s readership dropped to just 57,000 last year. As newspapers struggle for subscribers, the circulation of the property content goes down. Enter Property Press.

“We think there’s an opportunity in some of those markets. There are quite a few places, like Hawke’s Bay and Rotorua, that we don’t work in yet but will definitely look into.

“Some of the bigger companies have made it clear that they don’t believe their future is in print. We’re waiting in the wings to help out their real estate clients when they decide that they’ve had enough with the dying publications.”

Changing times

But that’s not to say that Property Press hasn’t had to adapt to the changing tide. About ten years ago the website and online editions were launched, and six years ago when it launched its Nelson edition they added a region-specific mini-site to their ranks. Wellington also gets the star treatment with its own Property Press mini-site that includes what’s on in the region, useful links and a mortgage calculator.

And Hussey is the first to admit that the main website is dated.

“We are in the throes of redeveloping the main site, while we’ve decided not to get into real estate listings online we do want to jazz up the site and make it more user-friendly.”

Property Press leaves online real estate listings to individual outlets, but it does run a list of open homes in each region, as well as publishing each edition online the day before it’s available in print.  

“Our customers are agents and real estate companies and they already do their own listings online. We’ve taken the view that we don’t want to compete with our customers, if we can use the publications to divert traffic to their sites then that’s success.

“We believe the two [print and online] go hand-in-hand. The internet is quite flooded with listings so it can be overwhelming – the Property Press offers a more concise option.”

The publications are advertiser-led, so how each edition looks is determined by the outlets in a particular region. Hussey says the reason Property Press works so well for real estate agents is because it publishes their marketing materials while doing the hard work of looking after the distribution.

Caine Statham manager Pauliene van Strien

Power of print

Wellington-based estate agents Caine Statham has used Property Press exclusively for print marketing since it opened in 2014. Caine Statham doesn’t produce its own magazine but it does advertise property through its website. The team makes a complete marketing package for property owners, and all houses for sale through Caine Statham are advertised in the Property Press for up to three weeks.

Manger Pauliene van Strien says the decision to utilise the Property Press was a conscious one.

“Yes there is other print media out there, but they are very expensive and I like the Property Press. We want to give our vendors the best of everything so we do use online marketing in the usual channels – TradeMe and our website – but we also do a half-page or full-page spread in the Property Press.

“I think it’s important to combine both print and online because the majority of people will look online first – it’s quick and you can see a listing as soon as it’s posted.”

But van Strien says nothing can compare to spotting your dream home in a physical catalogue.

“Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but you can’t fall in love with something on your computer. I’m not sure what it is about the human brain, but it loves to touch something. It gives you a feeling and an experience and you just don’t have the same reaction to things you see on the computer.”

Hussey says it’s this emotional reaction that keeps print relevant – and secures the place of Property Press in the increasingly print-free future.

“We don’t think we’re dying. We’re quite a bit different to a paid daily or magazine. We play on the fact that Kiwis seem to love picking up pretty pictures of houses and we would argue we have a place in the buying cycle of property.”

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