It’s Sunday. Let me grab a coffee and a… newspaper?

Sunday titles were once gold dust for advertisers. But is this the case now? Mumbrella’s Zoe Samios assesses the value of long form content, and asks if audiences still sit back and enjoy what were once the most powerful publications in the publishing industry.

In the golden age of newspapers, if Saturdays were the rivers of gold, Sundays were the papers of influence.

At their peak, they could chart the course of the week for a TV network, a pop star or even a prime minister.

Sundays used to be the days for exclusives

Across suburbia, kids would tow bright yellow barrows groaning under the weight of the Sunday “bibles” and would hurl the paper onto the lawn for those too lazy to emerge from their beds. There was something for everyone. Comics for the kids, a sports wrap for dad, celebrities for the girls, and an exclusive the TV ads had been teasing all week.

For publishers, it was the biggest day of the week by a margin today’s media executives can only dream about. Advertising revenue flew in and for some, millions of papers were sold, filled with big scoops and exclusive interviews.

Victoria, with its long-standing ban on newsagents and pubs opening on a Sunday, meant the second most populous state in Australia was out of bounds – even as news and Fairfax trucked NSW editions of the Daily Tele and the Sun Herald south of the border.

But when Victoria began running the Sunday papers in the 1990s, the papers became revenue machines.

For Jeni O’Dowd, former Sunday Telegraph editor, Sunday was particularly important. In 1999, she was told by Lachlan Murdoch if she could extend the lead over the Sun Herald to 200,000 per week, he’d buy her a Porsche. Sure enough she did, and he did.

And adland loved it too; many of its award-winning ads ran on a Sunday.

Jump to 2018, and it’s been another big week at work. Endless meetings, non stop emails, and everyone is still trying to keep across what’s happening to a business, to their sector, or the world through their Twitter, Facebook, regular websites. Breathe.

Admittedly, the deluge can be grim. Another sexual harassment case, another shooting, another decision gone wrong.

But on a weekend, for many, there’s still a desire for a deeper kind of content. The chance to pause means people will search for what they still really want: a good story.

These pieces might not work as well on a weekday when consumers are distracted, and for advertisers, these stories can be worth far more.

News reporting, analysis and ‘storytelling’ are still a part of the Monday to Friday daily news cycle. An editor and their publication unveil an exclusive, often surrounded or followed up by a number of articles, analysis and interviews with an alternative perspective.

But that used to be the crux of a Sunday publication.

As the internet developed and readers could access information for free, anywhere or anytime, they looked to short versions of stories. Time became both a consumer, editor and advertiser’s worst enemy.

In Australia, the Sunday titles continue to survive, now with magazine inserts containing topics not covered in the week.

But are these publications viable? And what do they give advertisers?

The ‘relaxed Sunday reader’

Weekend publications have been available in Australia for decades, but the difference between Saturdays and Sundays has always remained distinct.

“Saturday’s probably great reading day too, but then there are other activities, particularly for women,” Pat Ingram, editorial director of Sunday Life, says.

Mick Carroll, The Sunday Telegraph’s editor, agrees.

“Sundays have a different pace for our readers, so our newspaper and digital platforms need to reflect that,” he explains.

“It is still the one day of the week people try to make time for themselves to chill, and our challenge is to make sure they spend at least some of that time with the Sunday Tele.

“It’s important to create content that is unique, surprising and compelling.”

Carroll says the content needs to remain ‘unique, surprising and compelling’


Carroll refers to exclusivity – a term thrown around loosely on a weekday. Not only does it need to be of interest, but in a world where readers can find out anything, anywhere, anytime, it needs to be new. That’s a challenge, but it’s why Sunday titles are still the “main game”, Carroll says.

“It is where the revenue and the audience lives, and because of that newsrooms concentrate a lot of effort into creating a broad spectrum of content in many different forms – lift-outs, glossy mags and premium digital executions – for their Sunday titles.

“Readers expect the Sunday titles to cater all of their interests in one package and when you nail it, that’s where the value is for them,” he says.

For Sarrah Le Marquand, editor in chief of News Corp’s Sunday title Stellar, Sundays are about making sure the publisher honours the “mindset”.

“The brief was that we were a substantial magazine and that we are a news-driven magazine, in that we break news at Stellar,” Le Marquand tells Mumbrella of the launch.

The publication first launched in 2016, following the axing of Sunday Style, with a mix of news and celebrity features as well as lifestyle content. It also has a section for News Corp’s Delicious Magazine.

“We break news all the time. We’ve done countless exclusives this year that everyone was chasing and then they are splashed across the news sites and every blog and radio show in the country. We have quite a traditional news factor behind us, but then you are also very mindful that people are sitting down,” she says.

Le Marquand

“It is a more leisurely day of the week, they do have time, they’re not looking to be lectured to or feeling overwhelmed with hard news.”

But why is this the case? Peter Pynta, director of sales and marketing at Neuro-Insight, tells Mumbrella consumers flick through magazines a lot quicker on weekdays than weekends.

His research was commissioned by News Corp’s Stellar Magazine, to encourage an understanding of the Sunday mindset.

“What we found is that the relaxed reader on a Sunday is more left brain biased, whereas the weekday reader is more right brain biased,” he says.

“The left brain is responsible for processing all aspects of your experience that are focused and detailed. The right brain is what we call global memory encoding. That’s all about the big picture, taking it in as a whole. If you are staring at the window at the city skyline, you are probably using more of your right brain than your left brain.”

“The left brain was far more biased on a Sunday, so that meant that people were taking in a lot more of the detail.”

Lucy Formosa Morgan, PHD’s chief investment officer’s believes there’s still a strong and broad offering from the weekend papers.

Formosa Morgan is more optimistic about the weekend titles than the Monday to Friday publications

“If you think about prime time news on TV, it continues to be one of the highest rating programmes, bar the big tent pole programmes, because it’s live and up to date. That’s not the case with news in newspapers,” she says.

“Chances are that by the time a person buys the paper, sits down and actually reads it, they’ve already seen the articles, or at least read the highlights online, or the news story has evolved further.

“Weekend papers [Saturday in particular] provide readers with a far broader offering which makes them a stickier, more engaging product.

“And if you look at the latest readership figures (against P14+), it’s the weekend titles that generally deliver stronger audiences,” she says.

But it is difficult to prove whether there is an uplift in circulation from previous years, based on the data available. Late last year, News Corp withdrew from the Audited Media Association of Australia’s ABC audit.

According to figures released by the AMAA in February, all Sunday titles were in decline except for West Australian Newspapers, but Mumbrella understands the exception is due to circulation of free copies in hotels and offices.

The July to December 2017 print edition of the Sun Herald sank by 14.5% to a circulation of 153,043. The Sunday Age fell by 8% to 108,138 and The Canberra Times dipped to 14,575. Meanwhile, Perth’s The Sunday Times climbed by 9% to 194,033.

News Corp’s last figures saw The Sunday Telegraph fall below a circulation of 400,000 to 378,449. Other Sunday titles by News Corp fell by more than 10%.

But the Enhanced Media Metrics Australia (emma) data – a measurement method which News Corp, Bauer Media, Pacific Magazines and Fairfax Media have said they prefer – the Sunday titles tell a different story.

According to the latest Emma figures for February 2018, The Sun Herald’s readership is 459,000, behind The Sunday Telegraph’s 841,000. The Sunday Canberra Times has a readership of 54,000 and The Sunday Age’s readership is 379,000. The Sunday Herald Sun has a readership of 814,000, according to new figures.

Looking at Sunday inserts, Stellar Magazine’s NSW print audience is 348,000 and Sunday Life’s is 328,000. The Victorian print editions have audiences of 299,000 and 276,000 respectively.

Depending on the way you look at it, audiences are either incredibly strong, or struggling. The debate around which data is accurate rages on.

PHD’s Formosa Morgan says the Saturday and Sunday titles should prevail in the medium term, but she isn’t optimistic about the Monday to Friday.

“Although in an age where fake news is somehow getting traction, maybe readers will turn back to the trusted print versions. Probably not, but you’ve got to hope that they instead turn to trusted online news outlets,” she says.

But for Fairfax’s Ingram, the reader feedback is always incredibly high. It surprises her, given her career has been predominantly in print.

Ingram says reader feedback has always been high

“The reader feedback and the reader engagement is actually quite phenomenal. I’ve worked on a lot of magazines, but certainly [the reader feels] l like they own the magazine to a certain extent. Put a foot wrong and you’ll know about it, but do something good and they really, really like it,” she says.

“Sunday Life is really attractive to advertise to, because of the level of reader engagement and the amount of time you spend with the magazine. I get quite a lot of letters from people who say how much they love sitting down with their morning coffee for an hour with the magazine.”

She adds Sunday Life and the Sun Herald are “totally intertwined”.

“Over 70% of buyers who buy the Sun Herald and buy The Age read the magazine as well every single week. There is a commitment to both aspects of the product,” she says.

Reader engagement and time spent appeal to advertisers, says Ingram

The Sunday Telegraph’s Carroll makes a similar point. Long exposure times with highly engaged readers are incredibly valuable, he believes.

“The reach of the Sunday titles is unrivalled. What they also offer, by and large, is a different sector of audience.

“Sunday newspapers have more female readers across all demographics and many readers are consuming our content through the lens of what it means for their families – a valuable commodity for most retail advertisers. Sunday newspapers also enjoy the longest engagement times which means products and partnerships have a longer exposure to engaged readers,” Carroll says.

But Carroll admits there is still a challenge for Sunday newspapers – keeping it fresh and exclusive.

“The danger has always been when you are working on a package that it will get knocked off by another media organisation before it gets to Sunday, a threat even more real now, with more players in the game,” he says.

“It just means we have to work harder on coming up with ideas that no-one is matching and then making it so complete and detailed that when digital competitors slavishly rip us off – as they do every Sunday – they cannot take it all.”

Neuro-Insight’s Pynta adds tuning creative to match a content theme can be a really big win.

Peter Pynta_M360 2018_Close-up

Pynta has conducted research which indicates there is more time spent with a title on a Sunday

“So a Woolworths food ad right next to the Delicious section is perfectly in tune. It is interesting because you come full circle and say ‘well that just makes sense’.

“The benefit of putting advertising to relevant content is 20% more cut through, which is petty consistent with other context effects in other forms of media which gives us a lot of confidence,” he says.

Is there a future for these print titles?

What is clear from these publishers is whilst audiences may be smaller, they are still more valuable. Long gone are the days of full page exclusives, but there is still a reason for Sunday’s existence. Now more than ever, readers demand analysis and long form, investigative content.

Plus, recipes and lifestyle pieces still grab the eyes of the target audience.

The content must be compelling, says Carroll

Le Marquand says it’s important not to lose sight of where the audiences are.

“The truth is that more Australians consume media in a good old fashioned hard copy Sunday newspaper than any other medium in Australia,” she says.

“If you look at the current media landscape, the Sunday newspapers are really holding their own. There’s no spin in that. It honestly is born out by the figures. For my generation, and possibly for the generation coming up behind us, and definitely the generation ahead – the baby boomers – we are still buying newspapers on a Sunday and a core part of that is the content that is not just dependent on the news cycle.”

Naturally, Ingram is also “relentlessly positive” about the future of these titles. To be fair, there’s good reason. This year, her publication Sunday Life is boosting its bumper gloss issues – which cover areas such as fashion and beauty, travel, food and home, to eight.

“I’d hate to see us throw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s a generational thing too. The fact that when you’ve got a product like ours that actually appeals to a more mature woman, you’ve actually got somebody who really still loves the feel of print,” she says.

But in terms of prevailing, Carroll points to a simpler idea: a strong content offering. The mistake, perhaps, that all publishers made in a race to the bottom for readers’ attention was quality of content and the ability to publish something unique.

Sunday publications still search for that unique content, which Carroll believes will help them survive.

“Too much has been said about newspapers struggling to survive because no-one wants to read them, when the actual truth is that the newspapers struggling the most are the ordinary products,” he says.

“Sunday newspapers are here to stay as long as we continue to refresh, embrace the opportunities in digital and produce content you can’t get anywhere else.”


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