Total sales of national Sunday newspapers have been in decline for a number of years. Competition amongst newspaper publishers for copy sales has never been fiercer, especially at the weekend.
So why would anyone choose to relaunch an already failed Sunday newspaper into this market? Let’s deal with the semantics first.
The people in control at Sunday Business are careful to point out that when they publish on February 15, this will be a launch, not a relaunch. The fact that it is a business newspaper publishing on Sunday and the title was purchased from the owners of the previous incarnation, are its only links with the past, they say.
The crucial area of difference is in resources. The company behind this Sunday Business, European Press Holdings, is controlled by the Barclay brothers. Not only are they known to have a bob or two, they have also held ambitions to expand into UK national press ownership for some time.
The editor, Jeff Randall, has an impressive track record in business journalism, especially at the Sunday Times. He also has strong connections in the upper echelons of the UK business community.
In a market that is sometimes too hung up on design, market research, and cover price promotions, Randall’s attitude is refreshing. He believes the title will stand or fall on how good it is at getting scoops over its competition. With a later print deadline than other titles’ business sections, it has a good chance of satisfying this ambition.
Everything else it is doing makes sense: the pink paper giving instant business credentials; the focus on geographical areas of higher target market density; the concise 48 page, two section format; and the price point at 50p, which is sensible for a newspaper which is mostly going to be an additional purchase.
To succeed, Sunday Business needs to become required reading. It will have to have something the Sunday Times once had – the fear factor, so the high flier would not dare to go to work on Monday without reading it.
Therein lies a potential pitfall for Sunday Business. Not the failure to reach that standard, but the reaction from the competition if it does. News International has proven time and again over recent years that it will aggressively tackle any competitor it perceives as a threat to the Sunday Times. Even one that is predicting a settle down circulation of just 80,000.
This raises the question of how many advertisers will see potential in a title with such a limited penetration. With the cover price at 50p, advertising revenue is crucial. If we accept that Sunday Business has a reader per copy factor for businessmen of 1, it would give the paper penetration amongst all businessmen of 6.5 per cent (according to the British Business Survey). This is small compared to the Sunday Times at 28.9 per cent or even the Observer at 8.4 per cent.
Although the numbers are an issue, this will not be a numbers game for Sunday Business. What is crucial is quality, not quantity. The calibre of the reader will be all important and easily demonstrable to advertisers if they are – as ad sales director Peter Gould hopes – to pay a premium to reach them. And the calibre of the reader will depend entirely upon the calibre of the writing.