Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Newzine launches

The Sportsman launched today. It bills itself as "The racing and Sports Betting Daily", credits itself with being the first national daily newspaper launch in 20 years but, as I have noted previously, it is really a magazine in the traditional format of a newspaper. Why?

1) It is aimed squarely at a very well-defined community of interest (those who bet).
2) Its business model requires it to attract advertisers with goods or services specifically for that community.
3) The content is based firmly on the needs, desires, hopes and fears of that defined group.
4) It clearly intends, through offering knowledgeable advice, to develop a bond of trust with its readers.
5) It also intends to foster community-like interactions between itself and its readers, and among readers, especially through its online presence (see below).

The Sportsman is a newspaper in the same sense that NME, MotorCycle News, Garden News and Angling Times are newspapers, ie, they aren't. I have decided, probably very unoriginally, that this hybrid should be called a newzine. The Independent is also developing many newzine characteristics, starting with a single-issue front cover.

The launch issue of the print version is, as expected, very professionally done, although the first couple of pages show a certain straining to capture tabloid headlines. In a series of stories about possible new managers at Newcastle football club we have -
It's Loony Toon Time
Fine Tyne to punt on new managers
There's just Toon many in the mix

Elsewhere the headlines are rather more functional and the better for it; subs on the Sun are paid very good money for a reason - they know how to do this kind of stuff properly.

Looking at the copy, every single story has a betting angle to it, which is exactly as it should be; even the weather is "Sports Weather" with a box-out guide to likely racing conditions. Hardened punters are catered for by an impressive looking number of insider-type writers but beginners are not ignored. The pull-out horse racing section has a series of box-outs explaining how to read form sheets, results and so on. Will these run every issue?

The dominant sports are football and horse racing but plenty of others are covered, although the first issue has no motorsport, not even speedway which has always been a punter's sport.

There is also a four-page business section which at least has the honesty to present the stock market as what it is - a massive betting shop.

Loads of ads from betting operations of one sort or another, as you would expect, but not loads of ads overall - definitely room for growth here.

But that growth may not be in the print version. will be launched fully on May 2 and listening to reports of the paper's launch on the Today programme I got the impression that the publishers have begun to see the print version as secondary to the online and mobile operations. The gist of their statements seemed to be that punters liked to have something to fiddle with at race meetings and other events and the printed paper would fulfill that role; the break even circulation figure they quoted was very low (40,000 if I remember right) for a nationally distributed paper.

This suggests that there will be major revenue opportunities available elsewhere - and if you think about the possibilities of click-through betting opportunities, with a percentage for from each one, it is in theory a brilliant business model. If this is the plan and if it does come off, it could represent a new phase of internet publishing.

Last but not least, the letters page. There are seven missives, which is good going for the first day. There can be no doubt, of course, that they are all genuine and it is purely coincidental that one of them is about availability in Ireland, one of them knocks the Racing Post ("too expensive and contains stuff that I am just not interested in"), another knocks the Racing Post and asks about greyhound racing ("one of the largest spectator sports in Britain"; the editor's reply is most reassuring), one of them asks about Scottish football and someone who used to work on the Racing Post (now writing for The Sportsman, oddly enough), and the other three are about football - Chelsea, Tottenham and Sheffield Wednesday (actually more about Sheffield United).

Initial comments on the MediaGuardian site are not very favourable. Read and join in here.

Monday, March 06, 2006

An embarrassment of riches

It's becoming quite hard to keep up with all of the new magazines being launched, either with ridiculously large or ridiculously small budgets.

In the former category come the Mail On Sunday's You, Emap's just-announced title for working mums and Inside Out, the next from News Magazines.

The logic behind making a magazine which is freely available with a Sunday newspaper into a purchased title is not entirely clear to me, especially as the mag will sell for £1 and the Mail on Sunday sells for £1.30. Does that mean the rest of the paper is only worth 30p? But as a reported £8m has gone into the project I suppose someone has done the sums (although this is not always the case, as many a case history can show). The features will be a bit longer and there will be a bit less advertising. Classic magazine theory suggests that magazines given away with newspapers do not enjoy the same strong relationship with readers that ordinary standalone titles do, so this will be an interesting test of both sides. (Story from here)

[This magazine is making waves already - take a look at this story from MediaWeek for paranoia. If Vogue really thinks that punters will get confused, what kind of opinion do they have of their readers?]

A mere £12m will go into Emap's venture into the working mum territory - just a thought, but isn't that where She "The Magazine For Women Who Juggle" used to be before its recent makeover? The advance rumour is that it will signal a slight shift away from the out-and-out real life/celeb paradigm which has been so successful in the last couple of years, with "weightier" stories – just a thought but isn't that where Marie-Claire used to be?

Next up from Rupert Murdoch's "small" operation (see Rupert Does Small) News Magazines will be a home interest title.
This only has £6m backing (more here) and will only give away 2million 28-page free taster copies before its proper launch on 16 March.

That makes £24m so far but not all magazines are launched in this way. The student market is littered with almost as many bleached bones as the town/city what's on sector. An accidental encounter with my "archive" turned up a gem from a MediaGuardian of who knows what date (actually, a whois search suggests late 97-early 98), concerning the then just launched Studentmagazine. Much was promised, yet and though still listed as active return a big nothing now. This has not stopped a slew of actual and promised titles from ex-students all round the country. I fear that most of them have not read John Wharton's excellent Managing Magazine Publishing and are publishing for a condition (being a student) not a need (being something a student wants to know).

Another area which people keep trying to reach is the teen boy market. Monkeyslum is still there ( if you dare look) and now the Institution of Electrical Engineers, of all organisations, has come up with another offering: second story in here or go straight to the horse's mouth at the IEE or Flipside itself.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Cold Shoulder

Classic magazine theory states that mags work by developing a bond with the reader, becoming, in effect her or his friend. Lately this has been developed into the idea of fostering a community around the title (or brand, if you must), all of which seems to work pretty well.

But at what point does clubby become cliquey?

The thing about communities is that they are great when you are on the inside, but horrible when you're on the outside. If the magazine-reader relationship can be characterised according to the friend/community model then there is a real possibility that individual readers may, at a given point in a magazine's development, feel frozen out, no longer part of the charmed circle of like-minded chums.

And if publishers refine their reader research too far not only may they become very vulnerable to the whims of trend (which I believe may partially account for Max Power's circulation plunge), they may also make non-core readers feel less welcome than before.

The question then becomes, is it better to have a less focused magazine with a larger casual readership or a very tightly focused magazine with a dedicated core readership and very few casuals?

Aren't you glad you're not a publisher?

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