The Saturday Paper vows to launch with 100,000 copies, but some media buyers are sceptical



The CEO of the newest entrant to the newspaper market, The Saturday Paper, has promised to launch its first edition to a print run of 100,000 in the same week Fairfax Media announced it was moving its weekend newspapers to a compact format.

Schwartz Media CEO Rebecca Costello, on the back of yesterday’s announcement of a March 1 launch, told Mumbrella that she was confident the newspaper would hit its projected target of 100,000 copies in its first edition.

“We will launch with that number, we opened subscriptions yesterday and the response was extraordinary. It has far exceeded our expectations in the first 24 hours,” said Costello.

“The only way that that circulation number will change is to head upwards and that will be based on the number of pre-sold print subscriptions.”

However, many media buyers who Mumbrella spoke to were sceptical that The Saturday Paper would reach such a high number from its first edition.

“No, 100,000 is too high,” said one media buyer, who declined to be named. “If we’re talking Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra and an app that’s around half of The Oz, Age or the Herald’s individual circulations, I would think 50,000 is a more realistic number, but it is going to depend on the publicity they put into it and that will depend on the money they have to promote and tell people that it is coming.”

Ian Perrin, CEO of ZenithOptimedia, said he thought it would be a difficult road for The Saturday Paper.

“I think The Saturday Paper is going to be a battle,” he said. “I’m not overly positive about the newspaper category at the moment, in terms of our clients and what people are saying.

“There is less money going into newspapers and now suddenly it is going to be divided into another newspaper which I think is going to put pressure on not just Fairfax and News Corp, but the overall category.

“It will be incredibly hard for the market to sustain an additional newspaper. What is more difficult to predict is how successful the launch will be and whether they will be able to get readers across from the other mastheads. You only need to look at Standard Media Index numbers to realise it is a category that is declining by more than 20 per cent year on year and if you then add an extra player you are risking crowding out the market.”

Media analyst Steve Allen said the move by Schwartz Media was a “brave” one, and that to reach the 100,000 circulation figure would be a “phenomenal” achievement.

“It’s a brave move,” said Allen. “If it gets the circulation it is setting out to get of around 100,000 editions that would be a phenomenal result and we don’t think it will be easy to get there but we do believe that there is an appetite for the kind of long-form journalism that The Saturday Paper is going to offer.”

Costello defended the target and said her experience with Schwartz Media’s magazine The Monthly gave her reason to be optimistic.

“The Monthly, in terms of print, is doing very well. Our advertising revenue is probably up 20 per cent on last year and I am actually seeing a move upwards in quality niche editorial and magazines that are really targeting their audience,” she said.

“We are giving readers what they want, and that to me is evident in the response to subscriptions and the response from really smart, innovative media buyers who have seen an opportunity in that you do not get the same engagement with digital advertising as you do with standalone print or a combination with digital.”

According to Costello, in its first 24 hours the newspaper has had almost 2000 subscriptions with around 70 per cent print and 30 per cent digital. She also confirmed that Tourism Tasmania would be a launch partner and that the first edition had sold out of advertising.

“Advertisers like Tourism Tasmania have come in as our launch partner and we have some very exciting advertisers with the first edition completely sold out and the next six weeks after that already half sold,” Costello said.

Many media buyers said they were optimistic that despite double digit declines in both print circulations and newspaper ad revenues, print still had a viable future, particularly in the weekend format.

“My gut feel is that newspapers on weekends have more of a tactile and experiential feel for people,” said Katie Rigg-Smith, CEO of Mindshare.

Alex Pekish, group media investment director at Aegis Media said the print market had been treated unfairly in recent years by media buyers.

“Newspapers have probably been looked upon unfairly over the last couple of years and money has been moving from newspapers to online even if it is under the same masthead.”

“There is room for a third entrant,” said Pekish. “We have a smart population craving information and I think it is a good move. We have hit the bottom, I don’t expect there will be another 20 per cent decline in ad revenue in newspaper and magazines this year.”

Allen said he believed too much money had been moved away from print product.

“A lot of media buyers have a corporate strategy to buy a lot less of newspapers – you can see that in the two consecutive years of double digit falls when the fundamentals do not justify that,” he said.

“Many of the big buying shops have said we’re going to encourage our clients to spend less in print and magazines, more in digital. The changes at Fairfax this week can only help The Saturday Paper’s case but the real opposition is probably The Weekend Australian and one presumes part of the rationale behind this is that a gap has opened up in the market.”

Costello said they were not targeting any one newspaper but hoped to raise the “quality” of the content at Fairfax and News Corp Australia newspapers.

“The reason for the decline in the circulation of the other newspapers is more based on the quality of the content,” she said.

“Our competitors are the Saturday papers but we are not ‘targeting’ anyone, as such, we are trying to give Australians a newspaper they deserve and ideally what we are going to do is encourage those newspapers to lift their standards and go back and do what they used to do properly rather than trying to compete with the internet.

“In terms of advertiser buy-in, savvy media buyers have completely embraced this product. I have launched four titles in my career and I have never had this response. One of the reasons we are launching this newspaper is that we don’t think newspapers or print are dead at all – it’s just that some of the models are broken and usually that just goes back to the quality of the editorial.”

Perrin said The Saturday Paper’s biggest challenge would be getting readers to switch.

“In radio it is easy to change stations but with newspapers when people are stuck into a subscription or the habit of buying and wanting a specific journalist or masthead it becomes a lot more difficult for them to switch,” the ZenithOptimedia CEO said.

Nic Christensen 

*A previous version of this story used the word circulation rather than print run, referring to the number of fully paid copies sold rather than the number of editions printed.



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