When The Glaswegian was launched as one of the UK’s first free weekly newspapers in 1989, few could have predicted the trend that was to follow. Now, 16 years later, all the main newspaper groups have free titles, and the sector continues to grow. London’s Evening Standard has launched a ‘lite’ version for commuters, as has the Manchester Evening News, and even the New York Times is getting in on the act. It will launch a weekly free tabloid version this month.
This month sees Glasgow as the hotspot for expansion in the market. Trinity Mirror Group this week launches a commuter edition of its successful weekly, The Glaswegian, while Newsquest is tightening its targeting with the launch of a free weekly going out to the eclectic West Enders of Glasgow.
Newsquest’s West End Mail will surprise few who have seen the area blossom over the last ten years. From a quiet, family-oriented area, home to parks and greenery, the West End has become home to some of Glasgow’s most style-conscious and affluent personalities.
The strategy behind it is clear. Newsquest’s research has shown that demographically 58 per cent of the West End population is under 45 years old, and the concentration of ABC1s is slightly higher than that of the rest of Glasgow at 51per cent. Steve McLaughlin, publisher of the title, and former launch publisher of the East Kilbride Mail, is sure advertisers will flock to the publication. “If you look at the area, from Anniesland to Broomhill to Jordanhill to Yorkhill, it’s a unique area,” he said. “It’s quite stylish, relatively affluent and younger than average areas. We’ve only just started selling, but there’s been a fantastic reaction to it.”
The weekly will come out every Wednesday and will be delivered to 30,000 households in the G4, G3, G12 and G20 postcodes. “It will be a quality newspaper, all about the West End,” said McLaughlin. “Anyone who lives there knows the amount that goes on.”
McLaughlin doesn’t believe the launch marks a move into more local freesheets for Newsquest, just capitalisation on an affluent community. “What you’re speaking to is the lifestyle, which is one of the most affluent in Glasgow and different to other areas,” he said. “The plan at the moment is to focus on the West End.”
The area is a community, but is there enough news to feed that community?
Michael Dale, the man behind the hugely successful West End Festival, which is now in its ninth year, believes there is. “We’ve had free newspapers before for the West End, but they just ended up disappearing,” he said. “There’s certainly enough going on. I’m always interested in things that are happening around here and as long as it supports the festival and our partners, then I’m all for it. People come here because of the sense of community. When I first started the festival, there were hardly any bars or restaurants along Byres Road, and now there’s some 35 bars, cafes and places to eat. I think, though, free newspapers are something you sometimes read but you can never find when you’re looking for a plumber.”
The West End Mail, however, could go the way of many freesheets, and end up loitering in tenement flat closes, something that has proved a problem for many city freesheets.
The Glaswegian’s strategy of taking 10,000 of its 150,000 circulation and handing them out at commuter hotspots is being tested for three months, but could see the title going fully commuter and, possibly, more frequent. Mark Hollinshead, managing director of Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail at Trinity Mirror, believes the move to a commuter edition will help grow The Glaswegian’s penetration. “The Glaswegian is very much an inner Glasgow title, and we believe from our research that there’s a potential there,” he said.
The commuter edition will have a marked difference to the delivered version, with the front and back pages carrying news from that day, making it a threat to the established Evening Times. “It’s not the intention to go after the Evening Times,” said Hollinshead. “We’ve watched with interest what’s been happening in London and Manchester. They’re evolving the way they can reach consumers. A high proportion of the population is commuting.”
Hollinshead is pragmatic about free evening newspapers stealing audience off paid-for titles. “We don’t own a paid-for evening newspaper in Glasgow so it’s not an issue for us,” he said.
Michael Flannigan, a senior media executive at The Media Shop believes The Glaswegian’s decision to go down the commuter route will increase its value for advertisers, but only slightly. “The Glaswegian is a really strong title, but you only have to look at any tenement close to see piles of them lying untouched,” he said. “Freesheets are an add-on for any advertiser, but if you were to choose you’d always go for the paid-for title as people have made that active choice to buy it. You don’t have a choice to receive it. With Metro, that people know where to pick it up and do shows that they want to read it. There’s a time and a place for it, people know they have a half-hour journey ahead of them so they need, and want, something to read. In the home there’s the added distraction of kids wanting attention, or dishes to be done or dinner to be made. People don’t make the time to read it.”
Euan Jarvie, managing director at Mediacom, thinks both titles offer good opportunities for advertisers. “Advertisers like things that deliver depth and range,” he said. “The depth comes out of the quality of who you’re talking to. If you’re looking at disposable income, it [The West End Mail] will hit on a very high strand. The difficulty is targeting people accurately. You can’t do catch-alls anymore. The way media planning is going, is being very direct.”
Flannigan, however, is sceptical about whether advertisers will go for the West End Mail. “The Glaswegian is just Glasgow, whereas the Evening Times is really west of Scotland,” he said. “I think the paid-for decision is always attractive, but if you wanted to target just Glasgow, then The Glaswegian would fit. I can’t see why anyone would target just the West End, as I suspect most of those people could be reached by ads in The Herald. Having said that, if you’re doing a campaign to cover Glasgow, your ads might not be seen just in the Evening Times.”
The Glaswegian’s move to a commuter edition is shrewd and will be successful, according to Jarvie. “If you go back to the days of door-to-door salesmen, one of the key aspects was the physical, tactile way of holding the product,” he said. “The idea is tried and tested. When Metro first launched it had people handing out copies in the station; that developed the relationship with readers. Trinity Mirror is not going to do this unless it makes money, and real money. I think the reality is that papers cater for different sectors of the populous. It’s just a matter of connecting with those different sectors.”
He is, however, doubtful that doing it daily and only as free would work. “The cost of doing that is phenomenal,” he said. “The commuting community is different in Scotland than in London.”