AddThis SmartLayers

Dyson at Large: Sports sell-out saves skinniest book

It was the skinniest daily I’ve seen for many a year; yet the near sell-out of the Express and Echo proved that blanket coverage of local mainstream sports triumphs still satisfies punters.

After huge efforts over the last decade, the Exeter Chiefs finally gained Premiership status in a 29-10 playoff victory against Bristol on Wednesday 26 May.

On the following Saturday, thousands of fans lined Exeter’s streets to watch the rugby union team tour with their Championship trophy held aloft from an open-topped bus.

So how did the local Express & Echo cover the historic day in its Bank Holiday Monday 31 May edition?

Well, I almost didn’t find out, because by the time I stopped off en route back to Birmingham from a South Devon trip at around 8pm, I couldn’t find a copy left on sale anywhere in the city centre.

Empty newsstands also greeted me at corner shops and garages on the road back to the M5, and more talk of “they all went ages ago” came at my last port of call at WH Smiths in Exeter Services.

It was only when paying for petrol there at around 9.30pm that I spotted a last, dog-eared copy crumpled on the floor, and quickly snapped it up with my 36p.

‘ALL HAIL TO THE CHIEFS’ sang the page one wipe-out, beneath a great shot of coach Rob Baxter atop the bus with high street packed with happy faces below him.

Another ten pictures of the celebrating public were spread across pages six and seven, the paper cleverly boosting ahead to 12 more pages of fans and players in Wednesday’s Echo.

This was good planning to meet popular demand by the team down in Exeter, and the rest of the paper clearly showed how seriously they take sport.

There were another seven pages of sport packed with 42 reads in the back end, scoring highly when compared to many dailies I’ve reviewed, especially when you consider that day’s paper had just 32-pages in all.

But I did feel that the rest of the slim book risked disappointing readers, with just 13 pages available for news, features and comment.

Fortunately, editor Marc Astley and his team obviously believe in story count, and they employed some neat tricks to pull off a front-end count of 95, quite decent given the pagination.

This included ‘The Gazetteer’ section on page eight, a free, bright and appealing editorial section every Monday, this week publishing two sent-in wedding and 11 new baby picture stories.

A tightly packed ‘In court’ kicker produced another 12 stories of local interest on page nine, and a single page of readers’ quality pictures on page 18 added another nine to the count.

Despite this performance, I do think that publishers like Northcliffe need to be careful when setting minimum paginations.

Yes, I know it was a Bank Holiday Monday and, by chance, you had an historic sports victory that boosted sales.

But on ‘normal’ Saturdays and Bank Holidays, it’s surely crucial to remember that you’re often left with your core, six-day-a-week readers. Is it sensible to reward such loyalty with the thinnest of papers?

The Express & Echo, with a cover price of 36p, sold an average of 18,053 daily in 2009 according to the latest ABCs, -6.7% down on 2008.

Read Steve’s previous blog posts here

  • Steve Dyson worked in the regional press for 20 years, editing weekly, Sunday and daily newspapers in the North East and the Midlands from 2002 until the end of 2009. To contact him, email [email protected].

    Steve’s blog is available via an RSS feed. Click here to subscribe.


    DAVE (16/06/2010 08:42:11)
    … and the skinniest Dyson column yet, I’d wager.

    Rob (16/06/2010 10:46:41)
    Yup, a bank holiday effort by Steve too…

    Jebu (16/06/2010 11:16:05)
    I recently holidayed in Devon and found the Plymouth Herald, Exeter Express and Echo and Torquay Herald Express to be very good papers for their communities.
    Steve, it was mentioned on a previous blog about you looking at the Express and Star. Without wishing to add to the workload it would be very interesting to see how you compare the E&S and the Shropshire Star. They are two very similar multi-edition evening papers run by the same company but covering very different communities. Just a thought.

    Steve Dyson (16/06/2010 14:18:46)
    I guess the thinner edition naturally resulted in a shorter blog, DAVE and Rob! But while it was skinny, I liked the Express and Echo. Re. The E and S and the Shropshire Star, Jebu, all in good time…

    Steve Dyson (16/06/2010 14:40:13)
    I guess the thinner edition naturally resulted in a shorter blog, DAVE and Rob! But while it was skinny, I liked the Express and Echo. Re. The E and S and the Shropshire Star, Jebu, all in good time…