MEDIA: Why the Barclays deserve a crack at the Independent

The champagne flowed freely at the Dorchester Hotel for the relaunch of the European earlier this week, and a decent crush of businessmen and journalists turned out to mark the occasion.

The champagne flowed freely at the Dorchester Hotel for the

relaunch of the European earlier this week, and a decent crush of

businessmen and journalists turned out to mark the occasion.



But, par for the course, the owners, the media-shy Barclay twins were

tucked away in Monte Carlo, allowing editor-in-chief Andrew Neil to joke

that distributors had made sure ample newsstand copies had been

delivered there.



As for the product? Well, it’s a decent enough magazine aimed at

businessmen, striking as expected, a pained, distinctly Eurosceptic note

in its political coverage. There is still work required, to give it a

tone of crisp readability: that may come when Neil finds an editor, and

steps back from his baby.



I doubt it is going to cause sleepless nights for the Economist, or any

of the other top people’s weeklies whose ranks it aspires to join, but

there are some useful innovations, including an new index of the top 500

European companies. Its problem may be that with fairly low grade paper

and matt cover, it looks too similar - for British eyes anyway - to

weekend review sections. About half of its sales are in the UK.



But, as I studied the Dorchester gathering, and then read the magazine

entirely, the penny dropped. The European is pretty small beer. As is

the next, well-funded Barclay project already on the launch pad, the

revived Sunday Business, which will initially only circulate in London

and the Home Counties after its launch on 15 February. But the

assertion, that the Barclays are moving into the media as a serious

long-term strategy is clearly the case. The Sunday Business team has

been given three years to achieve a break-even circulation of 80,000.

This has enabled editor Jeff Randall to recruit an impressive team.



These publications are part of the enterprise’s learning curve, a way of

both building editorial and marketing teams upon which other titles and

products can be added.



This building process has been most clearly and successfully going on in

Scotland, where the Scotsman’s sales have risen by five per cent in the

past year, with Scotland on Sunday also up sharply. The papers are to

have smart new offices bang opposite the new Scottish Assembly

building.



The aim is clearly to build up a stable of quality titles, and the

interest in buying the two Independent titles dovetails neatly.



The Barclays are viewed with suspicion in most parts of the media, but

you also have to judge by results. There are advantages in being owned

by a privately-controlled company. Freedom from the demands of the stock

market has allowed them to do quite the reverse of so many media

operators: they invest in titles. Viewing the dismal sales of the

Independent its best hope is that the Barclays are given a chance.



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