MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON: THE EUROPEAN - Why a European daily paper could never prove a success. After eight hard years, the European has given up the ghost, Alasdair Reid writes

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.

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

equation.



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

disappointed.



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

thinking.



’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.’



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