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
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
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
SMG’s SUNDAY LAUNCH TEAM
The hirings so far: the team will include 40 journalists and 12 sales
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
Donald Cowey, sports editor - Formerly sports editor of Scotland on
Charlotte Ross, assistant editor responsible for magazine - Formerly
editor of Scotsman’s magazine
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.