I love the idea of regional dailies without an existing Sunday edition launching on the Sabbath, extending the life of print in the face of digital demons.
Trinity Mirror is already trying it in Liverpool, with the seventh day Echo selling a steady 25,000-plus a week and – according to my sources – set to contribute a £500,000 profit in year one with stronger-than-expected advertising revenues.
The Plymouth-based paper had just 10 display advertisers in a 76-page main book on Sunday 27 July, just one of these being a full page and three others half pages – the rest quarter pages or smaller.
There were another two display ads in the 16-page ‘Living’ pull-out (a half and a fifth page), a solitary strip in the 12-page ‘Explore’ pull-out, and five more (all full pages) in the 48-page glossy ‘West’ magazine insert, making a display total of 18 adverts.
I hate to say it, but this David and Goliath ad:edit ratio – reminiscent of the short-lived Sentinel Sunday from the early 2000s – will be the death of WMN on Sunday unless volumes at least treble in the next few months.
Some will point at the 14 pages of classified carried in the back end, but a close look at these reveals they are carried across all seven days, and so are unlikely to add substantial revenues.
Others will point at the meaty cover price of £1.50, but I’d question such a premium for a new launch, especially when the weekday and Saturday WMN sells for well under a pound, (in Liverpool, the Sunday Echo sells for just 50p, undercutting its weekday and Saturday sister editions as a marketing ploy).
As for the front page, I disliked the huge WMN masthead overshadowing the tiny Western Morning News on Sunday logo, which I believe could be a branding blooper for readers used to a full title six days a week.
And I wasn’t overly gripped by the sewage splash – pardon the pun – a run-of-the-mill picture story with a design that failed to sit well amidst the colourful boosts, (although the ‘10p off every litre of fuel’ offer was great value).
Inside, there were more than 140 stories on 57 editorial pages in the main book, with several of them investigations, features or essays running across spreads, in addition to several dozen reads in the two pull-outs and the magazine. Decent reports included:
- ‘Jail for cheat who claimed benefits while living the high life in Goa’ leading page three;
- ‘Navy’s first female skipper accused of onboard affair’ leading page five (this was in the Saturday nationals as a ‘scandal’ but received a fair and balanced follow up in WMN on Sunday);
- ‘Stolen childhood’, an investigation into child carers who miss out on their education, spread across pages 16 and 17;
- ‘The Sunday essay’ spread on dealing with reoffending criminals across pages 20 and 21, written by a local health academic;
- ‘Westcountry outsider’ and ‘Rossiter on Sunday’ on pages 26, 27 and 29, a collection of astute local conversation and opinion penned by Keith Rossiter, who struck me as a mature journalist who knows how to write; and
- ‘Interview – the Overton twins’ on pages 66 and 67 in sport, a quality chat with Somerset’s cricketers who were born three minutes apart.
The two pull-outs – ‘Living’ and ‘Explore’ – were woolly and directionless, I’m afraid, the first a mixture of a few health and ‘life experience’ features, with entertainment pieces thrown in towards the end, the latter a too-stretched travel section.
But I quite liked the ‘West’ magazine, which had a much better grip of what it stands for, 30 pages of fashion, shopping, interviews, gardens, eating and motoring providing an interesting distraction before one of the best seven-day TV listings I’ve seen for quite a while across 15 pages.
We all want to see WMN on Sunday succeed, of course, so for what it’s worth here’s my seven-point summary of what might be worth considering for the seventh day paper:
1. Make the front page much newsier – the page three ‘benefits scrounger’ or even a stronger line on the ‘saucy female navy captain’ would have done it for me.
2. Consider a recast of the masthead – perhaps keeping WMN but making a better job of incorporating the Western Morning News brand as an underline, the ‘on Sunday’ then running much bigger alongside the acronym.
3. Kill the Local World obsession with a page two contents page and inject more news – I’ve said before that it’s a turn-off in other titles, and this is even more so when there’s a half page ad on page three.
4. Some of the spreads were decent, as mentioned above, but others were crass – like the four poppies that dominated pages 10 and 11, with random war memory opinion shorts from personalities; every spread must fight for the honour of two pages.
5. Ditch ‘Living’ and ‘Explore’ as pull-outs – using the pagination and the best of the content to improve the main paper and to add to the momentum of an already strong ‘West’ magazine.
6. Don’t be afraid of slashing the price – unless 20,000 people are spending £1.50 a week, which I doubt when the parent paper only averages 26,000, (even the cheaper Sunday Echo only manages 40% of the daily Echo’s sale).
7. Finally, import the skills and manpower needed to sell the WMN on Sunday to advertisers – it badly needs commercial backing before it drowns.