The new year sees the arrival of The Business – in reality another relaunch of the Sunday Business newspaper – and the industry is wondering just how auspicious are the omens for this latest incarnation.
Sunday Business looked like closing in November, despite the deep pockets of its owners, the Barclay brothers. But a last-minute deal with the Press Association has helped to slash costs and secure another chance for the newspaper which, according to reports, lost &£9m in 2001. PA has contracted to provide the newspaper with production and sub-editing services, wire copy and office space.
Sunday Business was first launched by Tom Rubython in 1996. It ran into funding problems and the name was bought for a nominal sum by the Barclays in August 1997. The latest ABC figures for Sunday Business show a November circulation of 57,775, down 4.16 per cent on October. Average net circulation for June to November stood at 57,403, down 1.32 per cent on the previous year.
The Business, launched on Sunday (January 6), is now a single-section business paper, dropping its expensive colour supplement. The price has been reduced to its original 50p – since February 2000, the paper had cost &£1. The initial print run was 140,000 and managing director Paul Woolfenden wants to see a circulation of 80,000 by October and 100,000 in 18 months to two years.
Former managing director Andrew Hart, now chief executive at Diageo-owned Translucis Holdings, does not see the target as impossible, pointing out the newspaper reached 81,000 during his tenure.
The key to the new strategy is a two-day – Sunday and Monday – sale period, allowing Monday sales without the costs of extensive additional distribution, in much the same way that the Financial Times keeps its Saturday edition on sale on Sunday.
But the fundamental question remains: is there a demand for a dedicated Sunday business newspaper?
Richard Neville, deputy editor of Scottish daily Business a.m., believes The Business has its work cut out. He says: “I think Sunday Business was a good product, but it unfortunately came out on the one day of the week when business news is not foremost in people’s minds. People want to use the information, and on Sunday the markets are all closed.”
Woolfenden argues that the newspaper can set the business news agenda for the start of the week and provide in-depth analysis on major stories. He adds that the coverage provided by the Sunday broadsheets is not enough for the business community and the FT does not have strong business news on a Monday. “The Business is more than just a business section. I don’t believe that our business stories will be out of date by Monday.”
The traditional target audience – chief executives and directors – is to be augmented by “dynamic middle management” and small businesses. Woolfenden says this is a slightly different market to that of the FT. But there is no guarantee the FT will not decide to fight for Monday readers.
Distribution will be crucial for The Business, which sells itself as a national paper. Woolfenden says it will be targeted to areas where its potential readers live. He says that there are 45,000 retail outlets selling newspapers on a Sunday and The Business should be in 27,000. He adds that those newsagents in the City not open on Sundays will be topped up on Monday and that there will be a drive to win office copy orders. But he rules out pursuing the subscription model implemented by Business a.m., which has 75 per cent of its 12,000 circulation on subscription.
Without a sizeable subscription base, advertising revenue becomes even more vital and in the past six months the lucrative technology, finance and corporate sectors have tightened their belts. The Telegraph Group has held The Business’ ad sales contract since August and has pulled off a coup by signing up BT as the newspaper’s exclusive launch partner.
Telegraph Group display ad sales director Chris White-Smith says: “What we have brought to the party is access, resources and back-up.”
Brand-building in the fiercely competitive newspaper market is crucial to longevity. With relaunch advertising – produced in-house – already underway, Woolfenden says there will be little money left over for above-the-line advertising during the rest of the year. It can be argued that, as a niche product, the paper does not need blanket advertising campaigns, but as Hart points out: “You need to get the product talked about.”
Direct marketing, sampling and point of purchase presence will be the likely branding routes this year, with activity carried out by the Paul Barker Consultancy.
Industry pundits do believe The Business can be successful, but it very much depends on reporters getting good stories. MindShare managing partner Paul Thomas says it was a good move to get rid of “the clutter” of Sunday Business while MediaCom group press director Steve Goodman adds that the target business audience “will be quite happy to pick up two papers” on a Monday and does not see the FT as a direct competitor.
Hart sums up the situation by saying: “To ensure its survival the paper needs first-class news with scoops and analysis and it has to be a complete product.”
Whether this can be done with a reduced team of ten journalists, albeit reinforced by the guiding hand of editor-in-chief Andrew Neil and two executive editors, is the challenge, but as one former insider says: “To get a blockbuster exclusive you need just one good journalist.”