Is the Star serious about its launch of a Sunday edition?, Thursday, 28 March 2002 09:30AM

Last week I asked the sales director of a rival tabloid what they thought the secret of the Daily Star's recent sales performance was. Without even pausing for breath they said: 'Telly, totty, footie and tits', writes Dominic Mills.

To which, we agreed on reflection, a fifth should be added: Jordan. After all, although she can be classified as footie totty with tits, she is also a category in her own right. Far from taking her out of circulation, so to speak, Jordan's impending confinement will, I'm sure, generate a stream of dynamite "exclusives".

And so we come to the news that, emboldened by a stonking performance that has seen sales rise by 12 per cent in the past year, the Star is to launch a Sunday edition. This is news that will not go down well in Canary Wharf, headquarters of Trinity Mirror, the owner of the limping Sunday People, or indeed with the News of the World crowd in Wapping. And while they tend to be loftily dismissive of anything Richard Desmond does, Associated executives will no doubt be secretly rather pleased: every pound spent on the Star is one that won't be spent on the Express.

But should we take the news of a Sunday Star at face value? It is no secret that Desmond would like to own The People, the paper most vulnerable to a Sunday Star. His approaches to date have been rebuffed, but with Trinity Mirror so apparently unable (or unwilling) to give The People the boost it needs, the launch of a possible competitor may merely be a ploy designed to force Trinity Mirror into a rethink. That may be possible. With an expensive -- and potentially difficult -- relaunch of The Mirror imminent, Trinity Mirror might well be glad to unload its problem child.

But let us assume that this is a genuine launch. Is there really a market for the Sunday Star? There are those who poo-poo its potential as an advertising vehicle, saying it can't achieve the circulation necessary to compete with the News of the World. But that's missing the point. There must be classes of advertiser out there who don't want to reach four million readers and would happily trade a lower circulation for a lower-cost advertising vehicle.

But there is still a minimum level circulation the Sunday Star has to achieve -- probably 500,000. It is by no means assured that it can. First, there is no guarantee that, despite a strong loyalty among the 16- to 34-year-old age group, daily readers of the Star will transfer. The relationship between existing dailies and their Sunday sisters proves that. In this case, the Star will have to break entrenched Sunday reading habits.

Second, the Sunday market is driven by genuine scoops -- an area the Star is not good at, hampered by a tiny staff and depending as it does on PR handouts and set-ups. A change of journalistic culture is required, and that is one area where even Jordan may not help it.

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