You can be forgiven for assuming that, if old school publishers are
going to inherit the internet (and an awful lot of people still assume
that they will), then it's going to happen by default. This is turning
into a duffers' sack race with the winners destined to be those that are
slightly less accident prone than the rest.
But, after all, who but publishers are going to entertain and inform us
online? When it comes down to it, aren't they the ones with the real
expertise at throwing words and pictures together in mildly diverting
Unfortunately, some publishers don't seem to believe it themselves. The
big consumer publishers, for instance, such as Emap and IPC, have made
extremely heavy weather of extending their media properties into the
digital market. And the national newspaper groups, with the odd
exception, have hardly been much better.
Mirror Group, for instance, has attempted to set itself up as an
internet service provider, even flirting with free, unmetered access;
and has tried to launch a major portal brand. News International has
also followed a similar arc. Remember currantbun.com?
But fear not. They're back. And this time it's serious. Both
mirror.co.uk and thesun.co.uk have revamped their sites. The Sun's is
more of a tweak to give increased prominence to its entertainment and
sport offerings as well as its news content - but The Mirror's rethink
is more radical.
Not before time. Even The Mirror's internet editor, Matt Kelly, admits
that the paper's previous efforts were embarrassing. He says: "It was
managed by a machine based in Birmingham or something and it just
stripped out every single word from the paper and piled it all on to the
internet. It was every single spit and cough without any extra
journalistic input whatsoever."
In the revamp, Kelly has sought to create a simple design that reflects
the flavour and look of the newspaper. "What we didn't want to do was go
for the slick production values of a magazine - because the site is
about news. It's in marked contrast to The Sun which doesn't have an
emphasis on the hustle and bustle of news," he says.
Not a huge contrast, though. Many media buyers praise the fact that both
are now truer to their parent titles, and are perhaps following a lead
set by megastar. co.uk, which has always managed to capture the cheeky
chappie spirit of its former parent, the Star.
But as Damien Blackden, the managing director of Universal Interactive,
points out, this approach is not without its drawbacks. He explains:
"The strengths of both The Sun and The Mirror offline are tone and
personality and you'd think that with all the interactive opportunities
you have online, you could take that even further. But, in actual fact,
it's harder. The newspaper is read in groups and it's a laugh in that
That doesn't happen online. They've now successfully taken the content
and put it up on the web which is a step in the right direction. But
it's content in an environment that strips it of personality. I still
believe they have to think harder about what they can provide that's
unique in the web context."
What about the business strat-egy? Publishers are now regarding web
publications as brand extensions. But in advertising sales terms the
situation is far more problematical - it's difficult to sell
cross-platform opportunities while the properties serve different
audiences. So different that in the past they have often been regarded
as separate businesses. Megastar illustrates this perfectly. The website
and newspaper are now owned by two companies.
Kelly admits he has no monopoly on wisdom here. He says: "The idea is
obviously for the site to be self-funding but I don't believe anyone can
talk with any authority about business strategies on the internet. The
most obvious route now - to charge for content - is a non-starter for
the foreseeable future. But whether you think the site is there to
promote circulation or to increase revenue, it's good for the kudos of a
newspaper to have a good presence on the internet."
So what are the implications for advertisers? Greg Grimmer, a managing
partner of Optimedia, agrees that publishers would ideally want to
leverage cross-platform deals - and the agency is also keen to pursue
those. But he can't see it happening with The Sun or The Mirror.
He states: "The audience of the red top newspapers is very different to
their websites. The traditional red top newspaper advertisers are the
big retailers and they have struggled to evolve online strategies in
their own businesses. It's very difficult for them to convert online. We
are still trying to be advocates (of the web and cross-platform
strategies) but the traditional retailers are the ones who are hardest
As many observers point out, the backbone of the red top audience is the
C2 demographic and they're not people who sit in front of a computer
screen for upwards of eight hours a day. Some, however, disagree.
Appearances can be deceptive in this market - forget cross-platform
deals, the Mirror and Sun sites could be of increasing interest to many
advertisers, especially if the revamped editorial increases the volume
As Henry Rowe, a group head at I-level, puts it: "I actually think their
audience is similar to the City boys who leave their copy of The Sun on
the tube. For some brands, you wouldn't use The Sun newspaper to reach
that audience because it wouldn't be cost-efficient. But online you only
pay for what you get and the environment is a good one. I think The Sun
especially is on track and taking it in-house and aligning it with the
newspaper will really enhance its proposition."