MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON THE MONTH - The Sunday Times banks on CD-Rom to attract under-35s

Is The Sunday Times right to be so proud of its new baby, The Month, Ian Darby asks.

You can't accuse The Sunday Times of being overly modest about this weekend's launch of its new CD-Rom magazine, The Month.

The media pack for the launch includes a timeline of the history of innovation in newspaper publishing that locates The Month in the same context as Parliament clearing the way for a free press with the Licensing Act and the launch of the first-ever newspaper in 1622.

It's a bit like the Hutchison 3 ad that puts the video phone on a par with the first lunar landing. You're left in no doubt that the people behind the product are mightily impressed with their own work.

But does The Month justify such hype and what will its launch do for the fortunes of The Sunday Times?

Its intentions are clear. Research shows that readers, particularly those hard-to-find under-35 readers, want more entertainment coverage from their Sunday newspaper. They are also time poor and technology literate. Combine an entertainment package with a new way of accessing it and you've got the next big thing.

The Month will be a monthly package that combines exclusive editorial content (the first has an interview with David Bowie) with previews of film trailers, music tracks from albums and video games. It links this to the facility to purchase tickets, find cinema times and buy CDs of musicians featured, providing an in-built revenue stream linked to a reader benefit.

Andrew Mullins, the marketing director of Times Newspapers Limited, says: "There has been a range of sampling with newspapers putting DVDs on their covers on a weekly basis and getting an instant sales uplift. We want these circulation benefits but we want to turn this into long-term readership.

Because the disc is tied into the Culture section people will hold on to the disc, buy the Culture to read the reviews, then go back and buy products through the disc. It will bring people in and get them more closely affiliated with the Culture."

The plans to launch The Month have been relatively well received by agencies and advertisers. Elliot Parkus, the press director at ZenithOptimedia, says: "It's always to be welcomed when people do something new. But, as for how much impact it will make, this will be fairly limited due to the fairly limited number of Sunday Times readers that have computers with internet connections. But it is a really innovative approach."

There is scope for advertisers to get involved in The Month. Renault reportedly paid close to £300,000 to be the headline sponsor and The Sunday Times has pulled in other sponsors including BT, Xbox and Sky Sports.

"All our clients are looking for opportunities beyond straight page advertising," Parkus says.

However, there may be some frustrations lurking for advertisers. The real strength of the product is the facility to link content with direct sales. But if a music retailer, for example, is interested in getting involved, it may be able to advertise around reviews and music video clips but would risk sales being driven to another music retailer with whom The Sunday Times already has a deal in place.

Observers also say that The Sunday Times must make the positioning of The Month clear, that it must make it apparent that The Month is different from the glut of one-off CD giveaways used by other newspapers. Mullins hopes that a hefty adspend, through Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, plus an extensive explanation in this weekend's paper will do the trick.

Others are already impressed with the positioning of the product. Mark Gallagher, the head of press at Manning Gottlieb OMD, says: "As a brand extension, it has to be one of the best. The Sunday Times owns that lifestyle image and has such a strong identity. This CD-Rom is a natural step. It gives young people a reason to go out and buy newspapers, which is what the industry needs."

In terms of attracting young readers, The Sunday Times already does relatively well. It has 1.6 million readers under 45 and close to a million under 35, according to the National Readership Survey. The Sunday Telegraph, in contrast, has just 750,000 readers under 45.

However, The Sunday Telegraph's sister title, The Daily Telegraph, has revamped and brought in younger columnists such as Irvine Welsh to build a younger audience and The Times has also innovated to maintain its audience.

But is enough being done across the market in terms of innovation? Advertisers would certainly like to see more. But Parkus says: "It's difficult for them. The Guardian has a reputation for being particularly good but when you've got a paper like the Daily Mail with a very powerful editor, the product is sacrosanct and you can't do an awful lot with it."

Parkus hopes that the Newspaper Marketing Agency will help newspaper groups in the area of research and development.

Gallagher says: "The industry in general should not just be about taking advertising from television but getting people to actually buy newspapers and hopefully increasing long-term circulations."

The Month seems likely, in the short term at least, to bring in more readers between 25 and 35 for The Sunday Times. While it's doubtful that it's the best innovation in newspapers since The Sun launched page three in 1970, it certainly promises to be an attractive eyeful.

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