The News of the World’s plans to give its Sunday magazine the biggest overhaul since it was founded in the 1980s have caused few surprises in the industry. The Sunday red-top is to scrap its magazine and launch what insiders say will be a more upmarket offering later this year (MW last week).
Media buyers, for the most part, say the NotW magazine is crying out for a revamp if it is to compete against the onslaught of rival publications from other newspaper and magazine publishers. While the NotW boasts a market-leading circulation of more than 3.3 million, the paper continues to haemorrhage readers at an alarming rate.
Critics say it is guilty of standing still while a whirlwind of rival newspaper supplements, consumer and TV weeklies and digital media have swept past its Sunday magazine with better quality products.
NotW editor Colin Myler, who is overseeing the revamp of the supplement, admits the paper has been caught cold. “Magazines are the most improved sector of the British media market,” he says. “Quite simply, Sunday magazine hasn’t kept pace with the dramatic changes. That’s why we put together an experienced team of journalists and designers to produce a new magazine that is more relevant to our readers and advertisers.”
That team includes former First, Closer and Grazia journalist Mandy Appleyard, who is the new editor of the supplement. Appleyard, who has held several senior positions in the British magazine industry, will work in tandem with her former EMAP stablemate Jane Johnson, who is now the NotW’s deputy editor.
Johnson is credited with the successful launch of Closer during her time at EMAP and, observers say, will be the brains behind the new supplement. But the NotW is keeping tight-lipped about what the new magazine will look like.
Insiders say it will be a more upmarket proposition better equipped to compete against women’s weeklies such as H Bauer’s Take a Break and EMAP’s Closer and Grazia.
The paper hopes a redesign, new content and a new name – plus higher quality paper – will help it break new ground across the Sunday red-top market and successfully lure in bluechip advertisers.
Some, however, believe a complete overhaul may be misjudged. They argue that the Sunday’s core offering of gossip, real-life stories and celebrity fare needs nothing more than a gentle refresh.
One source says: “They have a phenomenal opportunity with its massive circulation to grow on the property they have.”
Yet such moves to rejig the supplement, such as hiving off of its TV listing pages as a separate section in 2004, have failed to stem the paper’s sliding circulation.
Like all new launches, the risks are high, particularly with a circulation of more than 3.3 million and a swell of competing media.
Much will depend on the financial backing offered by parent company News International, which is in the midst of shedding editorial jobs, including some at NotW, as part of its cost-cutting drive.
Another concern, according to observers, will be if the NotW starts to turn away the numerous and lucrative direct response ads but then fails to attract advertising from the likes of packaged goods and car brands as part of its bid to move upmarket.
Ian Richmond, press buyer at Initiative, says: “The danger is that it becomes a transitional product and turns away direct response ads.”
Furthermore, new advertisers will want proof of the product’s quality and durability before they commit their brands to its pages.
While the Mail on Sunday’s You magazine is widely seen as a successful template for weekend supplements, observers say none of the red tops have yet succeeded in offering readers a compelling weekend magazine.
Alex Randall, head of press at Vizeum, adds: “The challenge is how do you compete in terms of quality with a women’s weekly when you have to print around 3.5 million copies given away as added value.”
News International can point to the success of The Sunday Times’ Style as proof that it has strong credentials when it comes to launching weekend supplements. The industry will be watching closely to see if it can repeat that success with the NotW’s Sunday magazine.