The News of the World will hope an estimated £10m investment in its new glossy supplement will give the title a boost in sales that even the highest-circulating newspaper in the UK would welcome. The launch of Fabulous on Sunday saw the unveiling of a project that has been six months in the making, with a public relations and press campaign culminating last Friday with a TV commercial plugging News of the World’s latest creation.
The News International-owned paper will be gambling on its heavily-researched verdict that readers will find the new supplement, Fabulous, exactly that, with its glossy cover, better paper stock and improved editorial all brought together in a handbag-friendly sized publication.
And that is where the fundamental shift in strategy lies. Unlike Fabulous’ predecessor, Sunday magazine, which had a more generic approach to readership, the new offering is aimed squarely at the female market.
While it is not positioning itself as a direct competitor to any of the women’s weeklies, News of the World has created a magazine with the same high production values and editorial content. Jane Johnson, Fabulous editorial director and News of the World deputy editor, says the aim is to make it both “aspirational” and “relevant to the modern woman”.
The newspaper is one of the UK’s oldest surviving titles and today has online and mobile editions. When it was first published in 1843, with a cover price of three pence, it was the cheapest newspaper of its time and aimed directly at the newly literate working classes. Its motto was “All human life is there”.
Despite being dismissed as a “scandal sheet”, with later nicknames including “News of the Screws” because of its fondness for sex scandals, it soon established itself as the most widely read Sunday paper. Initial sales of around 12,000 copies a week prompted rival titles, including the Sunday People, the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror, to follow a similar route.
The Sunday magazine was launched 28 years ago, offering readers an additional slice of real-life stories and magazine-style editorial. But editor Colin Myler says a change was necessary because the Sunday magazine had become “irrelevant”. To have any chance of holding its own among a female audience – which has become accustomed to the high standards set by titles like Heat, Closer and Grazia – we had to rethink its approach, he adds.
Myler was brought on board from the New York Post, also ultimately controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation conglomerate, following the resignation of Andy Coulson. Coulson stepped down after a phone-tapping scandal that saw its Royal editor Clive Goodman jailed for four months.
Not only is the News of the World hoping Fabulous will prompt a rise in the paper’s circulation, but also in its all-important advertising revenue.
Although it is premature to judge success from its first edition it has so far succeeded in convincing a number of high street brands, which would not advertise in Sunday magazine, to jump on board. Press buyers say that with full page ads taken out by the likes of Marks & Spencer, L’Oreal and Procter & Gamble, the early indications are promising.
MPG head of press Alan Brydon says when he buys space in News of the World he does so because of its “massive number”. He believes the significance of Fabulous’ performance will be judged on whether it will be able to increase the level of engagement among the News of the World’s female readers who make up about 50% of its audience. And if it can achieve this, it will give it a standing that goes beyond its market-leading sales figures.
“When we plan a buy we assess the numbers and the environment. The likes of Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar don’t have very high circulations by comparison, but advertisers want to pile in there because of what the environment brings to the brand,” Brydon says. “On the other hand, with News of the World we buy purely on the numbers. But if they can get the environment factor as well as the numbers, then it will start to get interesting. What Fabulous needs to do is be genuinely credible as a women’s magazine.”
Group M trading director Steve Goodman agrees that from an advertiser’s perspective, the real significance of the new magazine will be its potential to better engage female readers, which could equate to greater receptivity to the advertising within the title.
But one press buyer warns a potential downside of its female-focused strategy is that Fabulous could turn off male readers.
And while Myler may have high hopes that the magazine will go some way in boosting the paper’s circulation, there is little consensus among industry observers on whether this will in fact occur.
According to the latest figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, in the six months to December 2007 the paper’s sales fell 4.25% to 3.3 million, compared to the same period in 2006. During the 1950s, the Sunday paper sold up to 8 million copies a week.
Both Goodman and MediaCom associate director of press Adrian Pike believe the magazine’s launch could prompt new readers to start sampling the News of the World. Brydon is less convinced, however, emphasising instead its significance as a vehicle for stimulating greater read-er engagement.
Other initiatives launched around Fabulous include a standalone website, which provides an interactive element for readers who can “click to buy” certain products that have featured in the magazine – a function not offered in any other newspaper supplement.
Despite a strengthened magazine and online offering supporting the 165-year-old newspaper brand, Myler maintains there will be no big changes to its advertising sales strategy.
Goodman is more forthcoming: “They’re gearing up to offer a strong multiplatform proposition to both consumers of the brand and advertisers. They’ve spoken to us a few times about it, but I think it needs more work. There is definitely loads of potential in that for them.”
Facts and figures: News of the World
• News of the World was launched in 1843. It is the biggest-selling newspaper in the UK
• It was bought by Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd in 1969, after defeating a £34m offer made by Robert Maxwell’s Pergamon Press. It was Murdoch’s first ‘Fleet Street’ acquisition
• Almost 50% of its readers are women and around 38% of its readership are ABC1s
• It launched its supplement, Sunday magazine, 28 years ago. Its replacement, Fabulous, launched on February 3
• High-street brands such as Marks & Spencer and L’Oreal, which had never advertised in Sunday magazine, featured in Fabulous’ launch issue
• Media buyers have estimated the investment in the new supplement to be over £10m