Sunday Business has its work cut out winning market share

When it hits the streets in March, Sunday Business will have a tough job convincing readers and advertisers of its value to the market. By Nick Higham. Nick Higham is BBC TV’s media correspondent.

The Sunday Times bestrides the quality Sunday newspaper market like a colossus. The Sunday Telegraph is making enormous strides in circulation and self-confidence. The Independent on Sunday is languishing. The Observer’s sales are plummeting almost as fast as its losses mount.

It doesn’t look like the best time to launch a new Sunday newspaper. Yet March 31 will see the first edition of Sunday Business. What are its chances?

The paper is the brainchild of Tom Rubython, whose successful career launching and selling trade magazines nearly came a cropper in 1991 with Management Week, which had to be relaunched as a monthly and renamed BusinessAge before being sold to VNU for 3m.

His team includes journalists from the business pages of the nationals, such as Tim Blackstone (once of The Sunday Times) and Jason Nisse from The Mail on Sunday, along with the former editor of Computer Weekly John Lamb, who will produce a supplement designed to attract lucrative advertising from the specialist computer press.

Dorothy Cumpsty, the former advertising director of The Times and Sunday Times, heads the sales and marketing side.

Rubython’s background in trade journalism has informed much of the thinking behind Sunday Business. It’s intended not as a replacement for any existing paper but as an add-on. Forty-four per cent of Sunday newspaper buyers buy more than one. Rubython aims to become the second choice for readers whose first may be The Sunday Times or The Mail on Sunday.

Likewise, the bulk of the editorial staff come from trade magazines, and the cost base will be low. Sunday Business will have a single edition, put to bed at 1pm on Saturday and printed cheaply in Saturday afternoon downtime, but distributed with the rest of the Sunday papers.

The paper’s research reveals 40 per cent of Sunday broadsheet readers are interested in their business section and 22 per cent buy their regular paper primarily for the business coverage. With a total of almost 1.2 million “businessmen” out there, Rubython reckons a realistic readership figure is 255,000, at 1.7 readers per copy and a cover price of 85p.

The new paper is targeting in particular the financial advertising which accounts for almost half the Financial Times’ revenue and more than a quarter of The Sunday Times’ (almost 20m in 1994), though with a predicted circulation of 150,000, less than half that of the weakest title in the market (The IoS) and barely a tenth that of The Sunday Times.

The paper’s latest dummy is a hefty six-section affair, with nine pages of news and a dozen pages of news background in the main section. There’s a magazine, a recruitment section and the tabloid “Bloomberg Trading Week”, produced in association with the US on-line business information supplier, mixing pages of market data with news and background features from Bloomberg’s wire service journalists.

In addition, there’s a Money and Life section with personal finance, travel and five pages of “Sports Business”. However, there isn’t a word of “Arts and Entertainment Business”, suggesting the new paper’s typical reader will be a hearty philistine with no interest in the music business, film financing, publishing, arts sponsorship, Andrew Lloyd Webber, the distribution of Lottery money, and so on.

It’s a substantial package, but not yet good enough to win over the business readers for whom “editorial quality, tone and attention to detail are of utmost importance”, in the words of the newspaper’s own prospectus.

Too many pieces simply aren’t well-written enough (a legacy perhaps of their authors’ origins in the business press). Too many of the longer features look grey and uninviting. The design, especially on the news pages, needs more white space. There are too many profiles (11 in the magazine, several in the News Review section, more in Bloomberg Trading Week): they’re tough to write, time-consuming to read. There is also an extremely serious libel in one of those in the dummy.

A lot of thought has been given to how the competition (in practice The Sunday Times) will react. So far, they claim not to be over-impressed by Rubython’s team or his package, reckon his early deadline will enable them to pick up any Sunday Business scoops in time for their own first editions, wonder how he’ll fill ten pages of hard business news (this week’s Sunday Times has four) and think he’s wasting money opting for national distribution when a high proportion of his potential readership must live within the M25, or at least the Home Counties.

The new paper’s biggest challenge will be to avoid becoming an optional extra, easily discarded, for both advertisers and readers. For the former, it will duplicate existing titles and must either expand the market or draw revenue from magazines and what it calls “second choice business advertising newspapers, such as the Telegraph”.

For readers, already faced with huge amounts of newsprint every Sunday, it will mean shoe-horning more reading time into their weekends or dropping an existing purchase.

And there is about the whole enterprise a worrying whiff of anachronism. There’s lots of talk of entrepreneurs, young businessmen and “modern business decision-makers” whose “overriding motivation” is the “search for competitive advantage”. But didn’t the yuppie go out with the Eighties?

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