Newspapers catch launch fever

Lower entry costs have encouraged a rash of companies to launch new media ventures.

There is a rash of new newspapers heading for the UK’s newsstands. Some have already launched, while others remain no more than rumours.

The first to launch was former Mail City editor Clive Wolman’s London Financial News. As a specialist City publication, with a target circulation of just 15,000-20,000 and a highly specific audience, it is the most modest.

The next due for launch is Sunday Business, from ex-BusinessAge and Management Week proprietor Tom Rubython. It is rumoured to be launching on March 31, but a mid-April launch is seen as increasingly likely. The title, with its claimed break-even target of 150,000, seems a much more optimistic proposition.

In the same single-interest vein, the publisher of the House of Commons magazine and the Church of England’s newspaper is looking for 3m from the City to publish a sports title based on Italy’s Gazetta dello Sport and France’s L’Equipe.

Also active is Mohammed Al Fayed, the owner of Harrods, who plans to resurrect the magazine Punch, and is producing dummies of a celebrity-based newspaper called Life on Sunday.

This activity is in marked contrast to existing national newspapers. The Independent made another 42 journalists redundant in February and The Guardian and The Observer are understood to be looking for volunteers for redundancy. News International not only closed Today last October, but is also looking to reduce its total remaining staff to June 1995 levels.

The reasons for the national press job cuts have been well documented. However, the victims of a com bination of a price war and high newsprint costs turned out not to be Conrad Black or Rupert Murd- och, but their employees.

The forces leading to newspaper launches are equally simple.

Sport, or at least circuses, came second only to bread according to the Roman poet Juvenal. BSkyB proves that it remains the key entertainment property of the Nineties, making a British Gazetta inevitable.

Sport-based media brings in a highly desirable young male audience for advertisers. Similarly, financial and business readers of the new newspapers will command a premium – if the right numbers are achieved.

However, the reason for the success of French and Spanish titles is the lack of sports coverage in mainstream continental newspapers. Newspaper distribution on the Continent is less efficient than in the UK, so mainstream newspapers have early deadlines and cannot carry match reports or scores.

This compares poorly with the sports coverage The Sun or the Daily Telegraph provide for their readers.

The logic of Sunday Business is that there are 150,000 business people in the country whose jobs are so information-sensitive they will have to buy the paper to keep up with their clients and competitors.

But the UK has both comprehensive broadsheet business coverage, and a fantastically diverse business press. Indeed, the majority of Rubython’s journalists come from the business trade press.

The structural and technological changes that have taken place in UK publishing over the past ten years mean that the entry costs of newspaper publishing have dropped dramatically. This has given life to the single-interest newspaper.

Ironically, those structural changes include the derecognition of the National Union of Journalists. This enables redundancies to be made with relative impunity. So, in part, the forces leading to newspaper growth are also a major factor in their cutbacks.

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