Archant is preparing its fourth and maybe final issue of the New European this week, with executives deciding today (26 July) if the paper will extend its initial four-week run.
The first issue sold over 40,000 copies at a premium price point of £2, which some media experts suggested would be the paper’s downfall. Interestingly, Archant did not spend big on market research, advertising, staffing or agency recruitment, and put a £10,000 cap on marketing.
The paper went from concept to consumer in nine days.
“To the people who said the price point was too much, 40,000 people disagree with you,” Archant’s chief executive Jeff Henry told The Drum.
He explained that the relatively small marketing spend was determined “because pop-publishing doesn’t have any lead time to it”.
Whether the paper will extend its run or stop at four issues doesn’t phase the chief executive: it has already achieved everything it set out to in his eyes. The paper has been profitable from issue one, he mused, thanks largely to its low cost base.
The ‘pop-up’ national newspaper was never designed to be a long-term brand and has not been set up in a sustainable way, since no new staff were employed to work on the paper. Instead the title tapped into Archant’s existing resources.
“It is not sustainable to have everybody doing something on top of their day job” Henry said. For instance, Matt Kelly is editor of the New European but his main job is chief content officer of Archant.
The decision as to whether the paper will continue to run as a stand-alone entity will therefore come down to its audience's appetite for its content. Since there is “no hard and fast rule” with pop-up publishing, Henry suggested the publisher may decide to change the pattern in which it is published, or that it may take a break rather than cutting off completely to “push the boundaries of publishing”.
Innovation doesn’t stop at publishing; Henry suggested advertising formats could be sold “in a different way” to match the unique proposition of the New European. This would extend into online should the paper invest in its website, which as it stands is in a “bearable” form, Henry said, since “digital was not the main thrust of what we were trying to do”.
Getting advertisers on board to the paper was “impossible” at first, since the product was not yet fully formed and advertisers had a few days to consider the product “with nothing to gauge it on”. Each subsequent week has seen advertising real estate slowly increase, but not to the extent of other newspapers since the New European’s model “was never built to be reliant on advertising”.
“The New European is about copy sales with cover price,” Henry said, “Advertising in this particular case is the icing on the cake for us.”
It’s a notion that will surprise many in the current media climate, where papers left, right and centre are making aggressive cost cuts internally to make up for an industry-wide decline in advertising sales, which are the core of many such businesses.
Archant sees its advantage over other publishers who have failed in this space is that in “sweet spot” of size of company: it is big enough to have the resources to put a new national to market yet small enough to be nimble in its delivery.
“If you are too big you would go through layers of bureaucracy to actually get something like this off the ground,” Henry said, “If you are too small you haven’t got the distribution clout that you need to be able to get it through national distribution, you haven’t got the contacts in terms of the types of contributors that we have had in editorial, or the sales contacts to be able to talk with national advertisers.”
Archant has a 1,500-strong staff across all aspects of distribution, sales, editorial, design and digital. With everything produced in-house this helped the publisher cut back on spend, especially in design where its own team had designed the whole newspaper within 12 hours rather than going down the traditional agency route.
While Henry did not rule out the need for agencies “when needs must”, tough times in the industry mean publishers “have to see where they can cut their cloth accordingly”.
“If there is a need for expertise that we don’t have we will definitely bring that out of house,” Henry said, “If it is something we can deal with in-house then clearly we will be pragmatic with that.”
The New European is part of Archant’s live market research to test a longer term plan to open up additional revenue streams, with further pop-ups in development. These timely titles will not necessarily be tied to a pseudo-political movement like the New European, but may be more in line with populous-type publishing, Henry hinted.
“There is no sense that it has to conform. We saw an opportunity, we went after that and the same will apply in the future,” Henry said. “It should give everybody a boost to believe that while the industry might be in tough times you can actually be progressive, innovative and do exciting stuff. Why not?”