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
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
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.