MEDIA: Perspective - More newsprint is not a substitute for new editorial ideas

One week the broadsheets are filled with political commentators

getting over-excited at Tony Blair's new glasses, the next they're

insisting we won't be equipped to mark our cross on the voting form (let

alone understand the vagaries of the variable swing) without their

hard-hitting election coverage.

For those newspaper marketing directors still with a job, the election

is something of a bonanza, with new ad campaigns, marketing initiatives,

extra pages, weekend specials and even a handy pocket-sized Rough Guide

To The Election (indispensable if you can't remember where Hartlepool

is), all urging us to part with our dosh in the name of informed


From all this frenzy you'd imagine the election provides the broadsheets

with a new battleground for readers. In truth, though, newspaper

election coverage is unlikely to seduce many readers to cheat on their

usual paper of choice. Apart from the fact that the media has, as usual,

overestimated the public's interest in manifestoes and marginals, it's

bloody impossible to remember who's got what special coming out

tomorrow. Too many papers are simply piling in with amorphous fare.

What the election scramble does highlight, though, is the fierce battle

for editorially-driven (as opposed to promotionally-driven) sales which

is currently raging in the broadsheet market. Our tolerence for ever

bigger newspaper packages and the value of new quality products is

finely illustrated by the early success of The Observer's new Food

Monthly supplement (reportedly driving sales up by around five per cent)

and the proven success of its Sport Monthly. In last week's ABC sales

figures for April, The Observer enjoyed a seven per cent year-on-year

increase; The Sunday Times and The Telegraph managed less than one per

cent, while The Independent on Sunday tumbled by more than four per


Which leads me to the latest rush to launch daily sports supplements -

will this prove a similar tonic in the daily market? The Telegraph and

The Times now each have a daily stand-alone sports offering and a straw

pole of regular (male) readers of both papers suggests that these are

very welcome moves. The only problem, as with the rush to pile on

election coverage, is that with everyone jumping on the same bandwagon

and replicating what the others are doing, the market very quickly

levels out again. Regular Telegraph readers are unlikely to switch

papers because The Times' daily sports section might be marginally


For the moment The Observer's beautiful food and sport magazines are

real points of difference that are clearly having a beneficial effect on

circulation. But as tumbling sales elsewhere have long been proving,

such true innovation remains sadly rare, despite the ever-increasing

number of pages we're being offered.


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