The Sunday Times is gambling that its reputation as a successful innovator will not be dented with the launch of its latest venture – a CD-ROM full of entertainment and arts content, called The Month.
The newspaper, a consistent pioneer credited with being the UK’s first multi-section newspaper, is ploughing &£10m into this innovation, hoping that it will boost circulation, particularly among younger readers. The newspaper first used the CD-ROM format as a covermount in 1998. Called Windows on the World, it was an educational CD-ROM produced in conjunction with the British National Space Centre.
Manning Gottlieb OMD press director Mark Gallagher welcomes the new addition: “It’s a positive step in that it will encourage people to buy newspapers – it’s what we expect from the Sunday Times.”
Even rivals are positive about the development. Telegraph display ad director Chris White Smith says: “I think all of those who have criticised newspapers for a lack of innovation should eat their words.”
Yet they are waiting to see how readers will receive The Month before launching their own, similar products. According to an industry insider, CD covermounts generally boost broadsheet circulation by about 250,000. It will be interesting to see whether The Month, which will first appear on August 31 and each month thereafter, will consistently provide similar circulation spikes. There’s also the question of whether existing readers will be bothered to move from their armchair to their nearest PC to access the audio and visual content on films, music, children’s games, TV and DVDs. The product is positioned as an extension to the newspaper’s Culture section and is packaged in a bespoke CD wallet within The Sunday Times Magazine polybag.
The newspaper estimates that 80 per cent of its readership has access to a PC and it has a larger number of ABC1 readers aged under 45 years than its rival broadsheets – 1.2 million for the six months to June, according to NRS. The Month is designed to attract more of these younger readers, who are much sought after by advertisers.
Renault will be the main sponsor of the launch of The Month, paying an estimated &£250,000 for the privilege (MW August 21). The first time the disc is loaded the full 40-second Renault ad plays with a no skip option, while on subsequent plays users can skip it after 20 seconds. Renault is known for investing in innovative media, having lent its name to the largest in-paper poster with The Independent in May last year. This sponsorship gives it another perceived media first.
It is hoped the CD-ROM will also generate extra revenue through commercial partnerships with companies such as MVC and Warner Village. There is a bespoke The Month/MVC website that users can access to order CDs which have been reviewed, with the Sunday Times taking a cut from sales. Likewise, users clicking on a Warner Village logo will be led to the cinema chain’s website where they can book tickets online.
While applauding the innovative move, industry experts point out that the newspaper runs the risk of alienating some readers in its pursuit of the youth market, as well as facing an uphill struggle to deliver good quality content consistently. There is also scepticism as to whether The Month will actually bring in new revenue. Some industry pundits fear advertisers may just switch spend out of other newspaper sections.
But Times Newspapers marketing director Andrew Mullins, who is responsible for both The Times and Sunday Times, says the newspaper “was not interested” in talking to any advertisers looking to divert existing spend. He hopes that The Month, with its audio-visual format, will instead appeal to those that lean towards television.
But according to one industry insider the hybrid nature of the product could prove a hurdle. He says: “There is a problem in that it does not fall naturally into any particular camp in terms of advertising and, potentially, negotiations could come from anywhere.”
One advantage for advertisers is that they will be able to tell how many visits their home page receives with the aid of tracking software, so the true value of any activity in The Month can be easily assessed.
But Gallagher warns that technologically sophisticated readers may become frustrated at the prospect of sitting through an ad as the disc is loaded and switch off before they get as far as the content and logos from other commercial partners.
Although one-off CD and CD-ROM covermounts have in the past helped provide circulation peaks for newspapers, the few attempts to sell magazines in CD-ROM format have met with little success. These include Unzip, from IPC Magazines and Zone UK, launched in 1995.
More recently, Pure Communications launched Enter in March 2001 to target young men. The product aped lads mags’ content and featured advertising from Toyota, Heineken, Mars and Jameson Whisky but has now vanished from the shelves. These products may have been prohibitively expensive, at &£15.99 and &£3.50 respectively, but media experts suggest they failed because the content was not compelling enough.
One insider says: “There is so much free editorial entertainment out there anyway on the Net that to be interesting The Month needs real exclusives really early.”
Mullins says exclusive previews of music tracks and film trailers are being negotiated and that regular contributors to Culture will also write for The Month.
If The Month helps boosts The Sunday Times’ circulation, rivals are expected to follow suit by launching their own CD-ROM supplements before the newspaper’s 12-month trial period has ended.