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. thesportsman.com 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 thesportsman.com 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.