So were you stimulated yesterday? No doubt, as an Independent reader, you were, but that is not the issue here. Yesterday the Saturday edition of The Times was relaunched in a bid to increase the appeal, and the sale, of Rupert Murdoch's newspaper on what has become a crucial day of the week for the dailies. As promotional slogans go, "Be stimulated every Saturday" is not one of the great ones, but it is the success of the new product that will matter. The advertising encourages readers to taste, touch, see and think, and offers a new supplement to appeal to each of those senses.
The advertising sensibly omitted a fifth entreaty - spend - because the new nine-section Saturday Times costs 15p, 20 per cent, more than it did. The era of Times price cutting is truly over. At 90p it costs the same as The Daily Telegraph on Saturday, but 20p less than its other Saturday broadsheet rivals, The Independent and The Guardian.
The newspaper year, like the academic one, tends to start in September, with editors and marketing departments working through the early summer to prepare and refine the facelifts to their newspapers before going away for the silly season. They return at the end of August refreshed and ready to send the new models into the market. Then it is a question of watching the critical response, the reader response, the sales figures and the bottom line. As with cars, the 2004 model is on sale from autumn 2003.
Over the past 15 years, Saturday has become an important publishing day for newspapers, particularly in the broadsheet sector. It used to be the feeblest day of the week. The papers sold fewer copies than Monday to Friday, and were thinner with much less content. News editors operated with small reporting staffs since there was less space to fill. Friday was a day when you spent much of your time thinking about Sunday for Monday (stories to be run on Monday that were left for the skeleton staff working on Sunday). Saturday papers previewed sport, provided a slim news service and did virtually nothing on what we apologetically call "lifestyle" these days. The weekends were dominated by the Sunday papers, which were left to their own very distinctive role by the dailies.
Then there was a rethink. New technology and the rout of the print unions ended limits to pagination. Social attitudes and patterns of work, not to mention the decline of newspapers as the primary source of news, made publishers reconsider their attitude to Saturdays. The Independent was the first to dedicate time and effort to bolstering the product on a Saturday, and The Daily Telegraph started the broadsheet trend to Saturday editions that had more in common with the fat Sunday papers. Magazines and supplements proliferated. The lifting of restrictions on advance publication of TV listings meant everybody started delivering a TV magazine. The conventional wisdom that Sunday papers had a monopoly on the service features - such as travel, personal finance, property, and book and performing arts reviews - fell by the wayside.
The public appetite for fat Saturday papers was quickly apparent as they moved from producing the lowest sales of the week to recording the highest. And, better still, the public demonstrated that they would pay more for them. Win win.
Everybody had to play, and in essence, all the broadsheets provided their own interpretation of the same formula. The Independent delivered a new kind of colour magazine, in that it was black and white and had more words than pictures; The Guardian produced a digest of the world's press; The Times tried a smaller- format magazine with more gloss; The Daily Telegraph produced supplements full of Agas, Barbours and nannies. …