Magazine article The Spectator

I Expect the Express Will Be Born Again, but Only as a Sunday

Magazine article The Spectator

I Expect the Express Will Be Born Again, but Only as a Sunday

Article excerpt

Some readers may be unaware that the Sunday Express no longer exists. The editor of this magazine, when I told him of my subject this week, assured me that they may not mind very much, but I'm not so sure. The Sunday Express has been part of our national life since its launch in 1918, and there was a long period, stretching from the early Thirties until at least the late Sixties, when the paper was read and appreciated by a vast number of people from all walks of life. In its circulation heyday - no more than 30 years ago - it sold over four million copies every week.

And now it is no more. Well, perhaps I overstate the case. On 6 October a newspaper appeared called the Express on Sunday. This comes after the Express on Saturday, and the Express on every other day of the week. The point is that the version which now appears on Sundays is in many ways indistinguishable from the Express on the other six days. It is a `seventh-day paper', a mere continuation of the Daily Express, with which it shares the same editor, Richard Addis, and most of the same journalistic staff. It is in this sense that the Sunday Express has ceased to exist.

The odd thing is that the paper ended its life rather as it began it. Beaverbrook decided to launch a Sunday title, he wrote, because he `believed that seven-day journalism would relieve our loss'. He thought that he could produce economies of scale by making the journalists on the loss-making Daily Express work harder for another day. Only six extra journalists were hired to help get out his Sunday paper. But it was not until the Sunday Express had its own editor, John Gordon in 1928, and a much expanded staff, that it began to flourish in its own right as a title separate from the Daily Express. From that time until 6 October of this year the two papers had a different character - and surprisingly different readerships.

Some modern newspapermen are a little like generals who have no knowledge of the history of warfare. Lord Hollick, the new boss at the Express, Stephen Grabiner, his managerial appointee, and Mr Addis have come up with a plan that might commend itself to a business school seminar. Their aim was to contain losses. The Sunday Express, like its daily stablemate, had been losing sales for the past 30 years. The idea behind a seventh-day newspaper is to cut costs (85 jobs have gone), some of which can be ploughed back into the combined operation. But if sales should continue to fall, this saved money can be easily banked. Thus the break-even of both titles has in effect been reduced.

Journalistic arguments have also been deployed in favour of the new arrangements by Mr Addis, editorial overlord of both titles. (Sue Douglas was sacked as editor of the Sunday Express in early September, and has finally negotiated her severance terms.) Mr Addis believes that a single newspaper will produce better stories. He thinks that the Saturday edition of the Express can be used more vigorously to promote the Sunday edition. Both papers, in his view, complement each other, and offer a single weekend package. He hopes that readers of the Saturday paper will be enticed into buying the Sunday paper.

I hope it will work but I fear it won't. Unofficial sales figures since 6 October don't offer much evidence one way or another, except to suggest that the Saturday edition of the Express, with its rather impressive new magazine, is doing better than it did. …

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