In the past week I have been rushing to pick up the morning’s papers,
led by the Express, with a degree of excitement. All the evidence points
one way: the national press may be in gentle circulation decline, but
there is no sense that it is fading away - except perhaps in the case of
the Independent whose tenth anniversary celebrations this week have been
The most startling thing about the variety of ambitious changes and
redesigns unveiled recently is that they are so editorially driven. The
fundamental message is that readers are once more being wooed with extra
editorial value, rather than slashed cover prices. For example, look at
the Express’ new Saturday magazine and the News of the World’s expanded
Sunday magazine, launched last weekend.
Both combine features with week ahead TV sections which will cause
headaches not just for direct competitors but also listings titles.
Apart from the inevitable cut-price offers for the next day’s papers,
there is little attempt to attract readers with vast cash prizes. An
offer of a free loaf at Asda for News of the World readers is as far as
it goes. In one stroke the paper eliminated the throwaway feel which
flawed its magazine.
But the real attention grabber is the new Express. This now seven-day-a-
eek title is undergoing a reallocation of resources and priorities, in
the most radical change since the title switched from broadsheet to
tabloid. It is too soon to tell if editor-in-chief Richard Addis will
pull it off, but he is having a terrific go.
Although 82 staff jobs have been cut, the savings, topped up with extra
investment to around pounds 12 million a year, are being clearly
switched into an expanded paper - with extra colour, and most
noticeably, a daily sports section, designed to differentiate it from
the Mail. Then there is the weekend package, the Saturday magazine
discussed above and the Sunday paper (we can no longer call it the
Sunday Express) with a second magazine, Boulevard (a sort of Hello!
meets a glitzy Spectator) based on celebrities.
It seems that the new management at the Express has tried to answer
that fundamental question: what are newspapers for? It has come up with
a co-ordinated seven-day answer which spans everything from news and
views to lifestyle and leisure. No part of the answer is, alas,
particularly original - bar the paper’s move away from undying support
for the Conservative Party - but the attempt to crystallise it is
intriguing. The problem is that the Express reader, to benefit, will
have to understand the mission and buy the whole package: listings on
Saturday, showbiz stars on Sunday.
Meanwhile the top team at the Express is cheerfully rubbishing the Daily
Mail as boring, and egging it into battle. I confidently predict lots
more excitement to come.