At the launch of the European, Cap’n Bob pulled a trick made famous
by the actress, Mrs Patrick Campbell. When she made an entrance, she
would always edge onto the stage backwards, using her body to shield the
fact that she was clapping loudly. Audiences - following like sheep -
would take up the applause and she would turn to acknowledge the
standing ovation that, apparently, her very presence demanded.
Fast forward to a lunch at the Connaught Rooms in spring 1990. In the
stunned silence following a megalomaniac Maxwell Communications
Corporation launch video, Robert Maxwell lumbered up onto centre stage
using the marquee-like folds of his jacket to hide the fact that he was
leading his own applause. And yes, an audience - largely drawn from the
advertising community - actually joined in.
That, for the European, was as good as it got. In hindsight, Maxwell’s
vision was rather touching; this was to be the newspaper that would help
build a new Europe, with housewives in Milan and bankers in Frankfurt
taking equal inspiration from its pages.
But it wasn’t going to happen and observers did not expect it to outlive
its creator, who died in November 1991. Yet the European had a saviour:
the Barclay brothers. Despite their intervention, people still predicted
the European’s demise. Instead came a series of relaunches, revamps and
rethinks which relieved the title from the burden of Maxwell’s daft
vision but, unfortunately, took it to the opposite end of the
sublime-ridiculous spectrum. Suddenly, we had a pan-European magazine
that hated Europe and everything it stood for.
There was talk of the European becoming an Economist for Europe,
conveniently forgetting that the Economist is already the Economist for
Europe (it sells almost 150,000 copies each week on the Continent) and
that to be any sort of Economist you have to bring just a little bit of
intellectual rigour to the party.
Last week, with the European’s sales well below its last Audit Bureau of
Circulations figure (133,000 for July to December 1997) and no buyer in
sight, the plug was finally pulled. Having invested pounds 50 million in
the title, the Barclay brothers had reviewed the sense-money
Will they be the last media owners to juggle with that one? Is the
European’s failure further evidence that, outside of special niche
markets, pan-European publishing just doesn’t work?
Simon Lloyd, the chairman of Optimedia International, thinks the theory
behind Maxwell’s original conception may have been attractive
superficially. The problem was, the product consistently
He adds: ’I don’t think its demise argues against global or regional
media like the Financial Times, provided they are well targeted. People
always want to read the best global perspectives. There’ll always be
room for well-thought-out and well-produced magazines. The European
wasn’t any of those things.’
Iain Jacob, a director of Motive Communications, says the European was a
surprisingly long-lived throwback to an earlier era of monolithic
’Outside business and international politics, there are print brands
that travel but they tend to be franchise or licence operations like
Marie Claire and Elle,’ he says. ’Yes, they are different market by
market, but there are more similarities than differences, especially in
ethos and editorial philosophy.
’We’re also seeing more syndication of TV programming, especially for
gameshows such as Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush. Media owners are getting
economies of scale at an intellectual and content level. But there won’t
ever be a daily newspaper that covers the whole of Europe.’