At a time when journalists are rightly focused on how to make serious money online, it’s refreshing to see good old ink on paper still doing it.
And its initial success has already prompted other publishers to plan similar projects: Local World’s Western Morning News has announced a Sunday launch this summer, and I’m told other dailies are seriously considering it.
In the Echo’s case, starting such a venture from scratch was obviously a lot smoother to produce than the more awkward ‘reverse-integration’ that Trinity Mirror’s existing Sunday titles have endured.
Forcing the likes of the Sunday Mercury, Sunday Sun and Wales on Sunday to become part of – respectively – the Birmingham Mail, Newcastle Chronicle and South Wales Echo was a tough ‘square peg-round hole’ challenge in terms of staff, style and content, (I know, I’ve been there).
But the Sunday Echo – what now seems such an obvious idea – has simply slipped in as the seventh day of an already popular, successful brand, selling more copies than two of its more established sister Sundays in Cardiff and Birmingham.
It’s adopted a heightened ‘Sunday’ brashness, of course, and offers a longer read and a deeper sense of analysis; but it still looks and feels like the existing Echo brand, therefore instantly attracting tens of thousands of current Echo readers.
Hold on a minute, I hear you say, weren’t sales of the Sunday Echo reported to have fallen only last week?
But these short-term results need to be considered in the context of the expected surge during launch activity; and then you’d need to scrutinise how many Sunday matches Liverpool and Everton have played since, which always makes a sales difference.
With the longer view in mind, I spoke to a senior Echo insider ten days ago and he told me that executives had only projected an average sale of 20,000, which they’re easily beating.
And he also hinted that both higher-than-expected cover price revenues and stronger-than-expected advertising will produce first year Sunday Echo profits of nearly £500,000 – a nice tonic for staff after the Liverpool Post’s closure last year.
Anyway, what’s the new Sunday looking like now that it’s had the chance to settle down?
First of all, some criticism: the front page was very, very busy on Sunday 23 March, with more than a dozen headlines, colourful sub-headings and boosts that made it difficult to read.
I reckon Liverpool’s 6-3 thumping of Cardiff and Everton’s 3-2 win over Swansea deserved a clean, double-score design as the main page one sports boost.
Every fan would have known the result, of course, but I still reckon the number of winning goals is a safe bet to attract purchases from readers who know and like what they see on the newsstand.
Once the eyes settled on the centred, down-page splash, however, there was a good, human read in ‘MASKED TERROR’, nicely summarised in the sub-heading: ‘5 yobs ransack woman’s home, but they let her keep the jewels that were precious to her’.
Inside headlines that caught my eye included: ‘Oh, for the love of cod’ on page three – a council ban on eating fish and chips outside with fingers; ‘Couple in 6am knife mugging’ on page two; and ‘Fast track to death’ across pages four and five, highlighting junk food killing obese Scousers.
There was an inspiring story leading page nine: ‘I’ll run half marathon for my pal Anthony’, reporting on a white man’s bid to remember his black friend, Anthony Walker, who was murdered in a racist attack in 2005.
And then there was a more challenging headline on page 22: ‘Migrant numbers: we reveal the facts’ might have provoked the wrong sort of reaction, although the report was actually quite balanced and an interesting read.
As well as sport on 25 pages in the back end, there was an eight-page ‘Sunday Punt’ sports pull-out, providing a great diet for a city that has so much to shout about from the turf and pitch.
This volume of 33 pages of sport is what Sunday newspapers have always been about, more or less equally balanced by 36 pages carrying news and features; my only query would on the plan for the summer.
The overall story count in an 80-page book was well over 200, plus two pages jam-packed with racing, results and league tables in small point, and all this for a cover price of just 50p.
Despite my slight misgivings about the multiple megaphone approach on page one, Echo staff should be congratulated for the successful birth of a new Sunday regional paper.