SCOTLAND: SUNDAY SPLASH - Ashley Davies examines the prospects for Scottish Media Group’s planned launch of a Sunday paper into a busy and vibrant sector

These are lively times in the Scottish Sunday newspaper market. Sales have grown steadily, if modestly, in recent years, and the Scottish Media Group is on schedule to launch a new Sunday title next May. But is SMG riding a wave of market growth or is this launch a vital part of the group’s defence of its daily newspaper’s territory? Whatever the motive, fighting talk has begun.

These are lively times in the Scottish Sunday newspaper market.

Sales have grown steadily, if modestly, in recent years, and the

Scottish Media Group is on schedule to launch a new Sunday title next

May. But is SMG riding a wave of market growth or is this launch a vital

part of the group’s defence of its daily newspaper’s territory? Whatever

the motive, fighting talk has begun.



The Sunday market in Scotland is dominated by the tabloids and

mid-market papers, with the Sunday Mail at number one, achieving sales

of almost 800,000. The only home-grown broadsheet is Scotland on Sunday

(with a circulation of around 127,000), which competes against UK

offerings and has seen a steady climb in sales since its launch in

1988.



Scottish readers enjoy a regional read. Of the four key indigenous

regional daily papers, only one, SMG’s broadsheet, the Herald, doesn’t

follow up with a Sunday. As Christine Costello, commercial director of

SMG’s publishing division, puts it: ’Eighty two per cent of Herald

readers are reading on a Sunday and we’re waving goodbye to them on a

Saturday, leaving them without an equivalent to what they’re happily

buying over the week.’



This is compounded by the increasing risk of losing Monday to Saturday

readers to other newspapers, which use their existing Sundays to lure

buyers over to their weekday products, including Scotland on Sunday,

which comes from the same stable as the Scotsman.



Graham Milne, chief executive of CIA Medianetwork Scotland, says SMG’s

moves are a testament to the success of Scotland on Sunday. ’You could

get a situation where the increasingly strong package of Scotland on

Sunday and the Scotsman starts nibbling away at the Herald’s revenue

base and that’s very dangerous for SMG. For defensive reasons, this move

is a good idea.’ And all agencies in the Scottish market agree that

Scots would rather buy an indigenous product.



Accurately assessing SMG’s prospects of success is tricky, given that

details such as precise positioning, cover price and even its name will

be kept under wraps for as long as possible. But the group is ploughing

an estimated #1.5 million into the launch, and already has a seven-day

printing infrastructure available to it. Des Hudson, managing director

of SMG’s publishing division, says the newspaper should be in clear

profit within five years. Andrew Jaspan, who will edit the new title,

says it should sell 50,000 copies in the first year. One Scottish agency

head says this is an overly cautious target. ’If they don’t triple that

they need whipping,’ he comments.



Jaspan, whose experience in the Scottish newspaper market leads him to

describe it as one of the most complicated in the world, says the

launch’s main competitors will be the Sunday Mail, the Sunday Times

Scotland, Scotland on Sunday, and the Scottish versions of the Mail on

Sunday and Express on Sunday. ’Only 22 per cent of Herald readers buy

Scotland on Sunday and I think they aren’t particularly happy with it,’

he says. ’They still perceive it as an east-coast paper.’



Most observers reckon the viable gap is in the upper-mid to quality

market, with the thickest saturation being at the popular end. But

Scotsman Publications’ chief executive, Bert Hardy, says he is not sure

whether the market is ready for a launch. ’I have never believed in gaps

in the market,’ he maintains. ’I believe you make your own gaps by

elbowing in and no-one’s going to stand aside for SMG.’



The regional confines of the Scottish newspaper market mean SMG has, as

it freely admits, some serious thinking to do when it comes to naming

the newspaper. It was similar thinking that prevented Scotsman

Publications from naming Scotland on Sunday the Scotsman on Sunday and

carrying through the perception of east-coast bias.



Hudson says: ’We haven’t indicated what we will call it. The point is

there must be some sense in looking to use this product to reinforce our

brands, to keep loyal readers and to attract new ones. We are looking to

produce a Scottish national newspaper and the Herald has a tradition of

being a west-coast paper. Repeating that on a Sunday wouldn’t make

sense.’



Hudson says its plans do not depend on expanding the market and, despite

recent successes across the board, he is one of many who cannot predict

whether the market is close to its peak. Growing the advertising market

is key, though. Scottish Sundays take 9 per cent of the UK readership

but only 2 per cent of advertising revenue. Costello says an element of

educating London agencies about the underdeveloped market will be an

important part of the process.



While Scots are famous for their willingness to buy more than one

product, attracting new readers without necessarily growing the market

means other newspapers must be gearing up their defences.



Milne says: ’The best chance you’ve got of killing something is at

birth, and there will be a big fight upfront.’ Scotland on Sunday has

already announced plans to split its magazine supplement, Spectrum, into

two, putting the reviews into a single, heat-set magazine called 7.



Hardy insists the move is not a response to SMG’s plans, but an attempt

to further define the paper’s readers. However, he is certainly ready

for a fight. He will not rule out anything, including price cutting,

despite believing that it can allow readers space for dual

purchasing.’We will be aggressive. We’ll make it difficult for them.

Everybody will. They are going to need stout hearts and deep

pockets.’



SMG’s SUNDAY LAUNCH TEAM



The hirings so far: the team will include 40 journalists and 12 sales

staff



EDITORIAL HIRINGS



Andrew Jaspan, editor - Formerly editor of the Observer, Scotland on

Sunday and the Sunday Times Scotland.



Rob Brown, deputy editor - Formerly media editor of Independent and

business editor of Scotland on Sunday



Kirsty Milne, deputy editor - Formerly assistant editor of the New

Statesman



Donald Cowey, sports editor - Formerly sports editor of Scotland on

Sunday



Charlotte Ross, assistant editor responsible for magazine - Formerly

editor of Scotsman’s magazine



COMMERCIAL/SALES HIRINGS



Christine Costello, commercial director - Formerly advertisement

director at Express Newspapers



Jane Deane, display advertising sales manager - Formerly corporate sales

manager at the National Magazine Company.



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