My new friends in Vietnam were convinced I was playing a cruel trick on them. "But where are the real newspapers?" they asked after I hauled a pile of British Sunday newspapers all the way to Hanoi.
Looking at the mix of soft-porn, meaningless celebrities and jingoistic sport through their innocent eyes, it is difficult to put up a spirited defence of a genre of the world press that has a distinctly British feel.
Nowhere else in the world does a significant proportion of the population spend their Sundays (and more importantly, less that £1) on a product that studiously avoids any contribution to public debate and political enlightenment.
So, perhaps this is where these papers score so well. What’s the debate in the pub? The future of the NHS or England’s fortunes at the World Cup? What’s the chat over the office kettle? Immigration policy or the latest Big Brother eviction?
The answers aren’t difficult, and as products that deliver to a defined audience these papers are superb. High production values, crisp writing and neat added-value supplements make them irresistible to around 17 million readers a week.
It’s easy to sneer if you’re not one of those millions, but, as a marketing ploy, they continue to trick the readers week after week, so something must be going right.
|Paper||ABC||NRS||% of market|
|News of the World||3,515,850||8.634m||18.1%|
|Daily Star Sunday|
|Audit Bureau of Circulation|
National Readership Survey
News of the World
Sections: 88 pages plus 24 page Score World Cup special, 56 page Sunday magazine, 40 page Big on TV magazine.
Tagline: SUNDAY NEWSPAPER OF THE YEAR
Best headline: "Coogan gave me a hard time…until I threw his Viagra out the window."
In paper supplement: News of the World 2 – "15 pages to help you get more out of life."
Come-ons: World Cup.
Content: Old-style buy-ups (Chris Quinten), celebs, tawdry tales but, alas, no dirty vicars.
Best ‘who cares?’ story: Dwight Yorke dozed off during sex with a lap dancer.
Verdict: Still one of the best-selling newspapers in the world, but old fashioned and dated. Design doesn’t appear to have changed since it was established in 1843, and formulaic stories have a paint by numbers feel.
Sections: 72 pages plus 16 page World Cup pull-out, 72 page Celebs on Sunday magazine, 24 page Homes & Holidays magazine.
Best headline: "She bit my lunchbox just like an apple."
In paper supplement: Radar, a celebrity gossip column.
Come-ons: World Cup.
Best ‘who cares?’ story: Cricket hero Kevin Pietersen to wed pop star girlfriend.
Content: Celebs, football, breaking news, soft porn, columnists and the occasional nod to politics.
Verdict: Feels more like a proper newspaper than the others, and has quality added value products. If it would only stick to its traditional position as a left-of-centre campaigning title rather than try to sink down with the others, more success could come its way.
Sections: 56 pages plus 32 page sports pull-out, 44 page Take it Easy magazine.
Best headline: "20st lard saved me from killer spider."
In paper supplement: VIP, a celebrity gossip column.
Come-ons: World Cup, Big Brother.
Content: Some of the old people-based stories that once gave the title an edge on the competition, but otherwise tired me-too celebs, footy, columns etc etc.
Best ‘who cares?’ story: Big Brother host begged his lover for a threesome with a prostitute.
Verdict: Rather like Owen Hargreaves, what’s the point of the People? It doesn’t do anything better or different from the two market leaders and comes across as a product that Trinity Mirror live with while they decide what to do with the company. The magazine is more meaty than the newspaper, but it’s still tripe rather than fillet steak.
Daily Star Sunday
Sections: 80 pages, 40 page Take 5 magazine.
Tagline: COME ON ENGLAND
Best headline: "Teletubbies home is now Laa-Laa-lake."
In paper supplements: The Goss, a celebrity gossip column; Gadgets & Gizmos.
Promotions: Win World Cup tickets (premium rate phoneline).
Come-ons: Big Brother and Rebecca Loos.
Content: Well-crafted big production spreads, but also plenty of little bits and pieces to keep readers engaged.
Best ‘who cares?’ story: Country star Billy Ray Cyrus yearns for his old mullet hairstyle.
Verdict: Launched to capitalise on the success of the Daily Star, this is a genuine seventh day offering which will not disappoint fans of the daily. Difficult to see, however, how it will wean new readers away from the big-hitting rivals.
Section: 64 pages, no magazine.
Tagline: AS SEEN ON TV
Best headline: "Sven stalked by 50-stone woman."
In paper supplement: Sunday Sport in History – "How we marked the biggest news events in history. Today, Hiroshima."
Promotions: Four free sex films on one DVD (take coupon to a shop).
Come-ons: Heather McCartney.
Content: Pornography masquerading as journalism.
Best ‘who cares?’ story: Michael Jackson has started wearing women’s clothes.
Verdict: Sunday Sport brings out the sneerers and complainers in droves – most of who have never looked at the paper – to decry its soft-porn editorial content and hard-core advertising offering. But for all that there is to dislike, this paper does what it does well and manages to have a bit of fun, something seriously lacking in its rivals.
British newspaper publishers may choke on their kedgeree as they try to digest the 700 page World Press Trends 2006, put out by the World Association of Newspapers at their annual congress. So, to save their time, here’s InCirculation’s guide to the main findings and what they mean.
* Advertising revenues in paid dailies were up 5.7% year on year. No figures were available for free daily advertising revenues.
Paid-for publishers are frightened of the frees and don’t want their revenues calculated.
* The audience for newspaper websites continued to grow and was up by 8.71% in 2005 and 200% over the past five years.
Put more effort into marketing your website as both a news and advertising medium.
* Seven of 10 of the world’s 100 best selling dailies are now published in Asia. China, Japan and India account for 62 of them. Sales increased in China and India, and declined in Japan, United States and Germany.
There is no room to expand in sophisticated markets.
* The Belgians spend the most time with their newspapers – 54 minutes a day – followed by Ukrainians, 50 minutes, and Canadians, 49 minutes.
People with nothing to do in dull countries read newspapers more.
* Newspapers’ share of the world ad market held relatively steady with 30.2%. Newspapers remain the world’s second largest advertising medium, after television, and are expected to retain this position for many years.
Hurrah for us, we’re great! But we all know what happens when you get smug…
* "Overall, the audience for newspapers keeps on growing, both in print and online," said Timothy Balding, chief executive officer of the Paris-based WAN. "Newspapers are increasing their reach through the exploitation of a wide range of new distribution channels, ranging from daily free newspapers to online editions. They are proving to be incredibly resilient against the onslaught of a wide range of media competition."
Hang on for the ride.
Read All About It – News Put On Internet Shock!
Newspapers, already masters at sanctimonious piffle when writing about themselves, hit new heights with the exciting news that they are to put news on the website first and not wait to put it in the paper.
Calling this "a significant development", the Guardian gave readers editor Ian Mayes close on 700 words on its editorial pages to develop the theory, while the media column also warmed to the task and had a large stunted-up picture of the old-tech paper Guardian next to the new-tech GuardianUnlimited website.
Yet again, newspaper managements are showing an unimaginative lack of appreciation of how ordinary people get their news. The Guardian is right up there when it comes to online news providers, so, while their announcement was a bit over the top, they are to be applauded for taking the stance at all.
News is a perishable commodity. Whether it’s stock prices or cricket scores, some old news has no value. What does have a longer shelf life is analysis and interpretation – putting a little light on the heat that is generated minute by minute.
Yet again, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that newspapers are not just missing the boat but actually waving it off from the dock. They have the extensive, and expensive, news-gathering operations in place. What they are not doing is delivering that news to the right people at the right time.
The reader does not care where that information comes from, although they will gravitate towards tried and trusted sites that they know will not try to dupe them.
So the BBC, CNN, New York Times and even the Guardian do well, but coming up behind them are the news aggregators who are taking the best off all of the above and putting it in an easily digestible form.
Type your favourite topic into Google News and watch stories from around the world arrive on a screen near you. Now AOL, looking to revive the fortunes of the moribund Netscape.com, is turning it into a collection of links to news articles, sent in by users and worked on by a staff of bloggers.
Just think about your own internet news habits and work out what the newspapers should do. Crowing about putting news on your website quickly wouldn’t be top of the list – that should already be being done.