New Scottish newspaper rumours

Media madness?

But so intriguing is the thought of a new launch we decided to put the story – which originated from a single source – into the market. You never know, it might be the very last newspaper launch we ever get to speculate on.

The gap in the market is apparently for a new quality national newspaper that takes on The Herald and The Scotsman head on. It would aim to reflect the new Scotland, its growing confidence, sense of identity and national pride; which – it is alleged – the current products are failing to do.

It would aim for a circulation of 45,000 and would invest in quality writing and quality editorial. Online would also be seen as crucial to its development. In fact, new technology – including outsourced production – would be seen as key in keeping costs under control.

Who is behind it is anybody’s guess. But the primary suspects must be an existing publishing house, with the resources, infrastructure and pockets to fund such a high risk venture. In fact we are told a team is doing a feasibility study on the project now.

News of the rumour was greeted with incredulity by most The Drum spoke to. There may be a gap in the market, but is there a market in the gap?

“Anyone thinking of doing this must be a bit mad,” said Alison Black, head of press at Feather Brooksbank.

“You only have to look at the readership figures for the indigenous titles like The Scotsman and The Herald. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that it is a marketplace that is declining.

Heritage and Background

“They have tried to do the pan-Scottish thing before with no success. It hasn’t happened for either of them, both with heritage and background to support them. Scotland on Sunday and the Sunday Herald haven’t managed to tap into the potential that is there. It doesn’t paint a good picture for someone coming into the marketplace. The national papers are really investing in Scotland. The Scottish Daily Express is going down the route supporting the SNP, and the Daily Mail has increased its readership. There is so much choice. How can someone come into this marketplace?”

In addition to the intense competition and the lack of an established brand identity a new title would face, the daily newspaper market has seen recent encroachments from free dailies, supported by wire subscription or content from established sister publications, all of which will make entry to the market problematic.

“There is also the advent of the evening frees such as Business 7 and Record PM,” says Black.

“Maybe one of the nationals will try going free. The way the press seems to be going, for a paid for quality paper, it would be a really hard slog.”

The market is crowded in Scotland to a greater degree than in any other part of the UK, based on per head of population, with indigenous titles such as The Herald and The Scotsman competing against the Press and Journal, The Daily Record, and the Scottish editions of the UK national tabloids, in addition to the freesheets. All are competing for a share of the finite pool of available advertising spend.

“Press doesn’t just have competition from other newspapers. There is online, outdoor, television, and all the other media battling for a share of the budget. I think it would be really hard to squeeze another title on the schedule when we already have a plethora of titles to use. There is a limit to it.”

Euan Jarvie, managing director of Mediacom, believes that while it is potentially possible to launch a new paid for daily in the present climate, it would be a foolhardy proposition in the short term, and financial suicide in the long term.

“To create a broadsheet title in Scotland today or in 12 months time seems like a very strange thing to do. I can’t believe anyone would present a business model to an existing publisher that would substantiate that. Unless they have massive pockets it is not going to work.

“They’ll have to invest heavily behind it. 45,000 as a sustainable business base in Scotland is do-able, but only if you have really solid revenues in advertising content and classified. Why anyone would launch a printed newspaper in Scotland right now, when the only people who are making any gain in Scotland are the UK nationals is beyond me. Newsprint is in perpetual long term decline.”

Based on the circulation target information passed to The Drum, Jarvie does not believe the business model would be economically viable, unless the new title could somehow fly in the face of anticipated sales estimates.

“Even ten years ago you’d be looking to achieve more than 80,000 circulation a day. 45,000 on a cover price of say 50p is not a lot of revenue. The advertising content if it is more business orientated restricts your business advertising base. You then have to develop enough information and readership to generate revenue from outwith Scotland to substantiate it to the major advertisers. Would someone like DC Thomson, for instance, do that? Frankly, they would probably make more money printing someone else’s newspapers than they would selling their own.”

Declining circulation

The X Factor in this equation that may yield a surprise result is the proposed editorial content of the new title, according to Jarvie. Down south, the Guardian and Independent are bucking the declining circulation trend, in part due to their lengthy analysis and comment. A Scottish variant could in theory enjoy similar success, Jarvie predicts.

“A defined political commentary is something that is probably sustainable. At the moment, the indigenous titles are very middle of the road. Something with a strong political positioning would stand a stronger chance in an independent Scotland.

“If you come in with something new to the Scottish market you have to come in with a very defined position. A political stance or championing Scotland, which delivers on the editorial position [might be enough] – because the editorial position on current Scottish titles has never been as weak as this.

“But to go into print six days a week – the market indicators suggest this is not a growing market nationally, far less from a Scottish point of view – you would be a brave man to do it.”

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