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Quality on a Saturday

People in the Southampton area may find they need a bigger letterbox on Saturdays – thanks to the Southern Daily Echo’s bulging weekend offering.

The Hampshire paper took the plunge and launched a quality Saturday magazine in December.

The extra investment, editorial work and sales effort both from advertising staff and those who boost circulation, was a calculated risk that’s paying dividends.

Saturday circulation is up and the Weekend magazine is paying for itself.

It came about through what editor Ian Murray (pictured right) calls an evolution – from an existing in-paper supplement that was already a recognised “good read”.

He said: “We are competing from very early in the morning with some very weighty, meaty Saturday papers that come from the nationals.

“When the decision was taken to press ahead with this development we had to ensure it lived up to the aspirations of the company.

“The company had to make a leap of faith with the new format.

“It has very much a magazine feel and we have avoided the trap of having a magazine which forms part of the newspaper.

“The extra workload has been absorbed as an extension of what was being produced before – by good husbandry and because our staff have risen to the challenge.

“They are delighted their work has been presented in this style and have come up with the ideas. They want it to be good.”

The company’s Weymouth plant allows stitching and trimming and Ian admits it’s not cheap to produce the magazine. But the effort made on the quality of content and the sales drive by advertising staff ensures it pays its way.

The weekly full-colour magazine is published on quality paper and comprises a 24-page TV centre with 24 pages of local editorial around it.

One important innovation is that the magazine offers a second recruitment platform with a careers section of up to 40 pages. There is also personal finance advice and features on news issues, fashion, gardening, travel, antiques and a celebrity column by local girl Fiona Phillips, of GMTV.

It all gives the Saturday paper added credibility and added value and is a very modestly-priced package at 35p.

Sales have shown that the 2p cover increase on a Saturday is a cost people are prepared to pay for the extra content – and for the quality.

At its peak the magazine added 14 per cent to Saturday sales but this has steadied to an impressive 8-9 per cent.

And the public response has been positive.

Ian tells a story of his friend who bumped into two elderly nuns cycling back from their newsagents with the Southern Echo.

He said: “They told him it was the only paper they bought because it had all the TV programmes in and was cheaper than the Mail!”

Sister paper, the Daily Echo in Bournemouth, launched its own Saturday Weekend magazine on the same day in December with similarly impressive results.

These moves have received a warm response from Newsquest, which is looking at the possibilities of repeating the success at its other newspapers.

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