Having read all four Saturday newspapers in Melbourne – The Weekend Australian, The Saturday Age, The Saturday Herald Sun and The Saturday Paper - the value of competition is obvious. The three existing Saturday newspapers responded to the arrival of The Saturday Paper by rejigging their offers. The move of The Age to tabloid format is the most significant response – though they will say it was happening regardless.
This weekend, Melbourne is better served by its newspapers as a result of competition. I hope it keeps up.
Now, to the products themselves. I’m not going to comment on The Weekend Australian as it is more a propaganda sheet than newspaper – the media section on Monday is excellent and the weekend magazine insert is excellent … the rest is of little interest to me. Nor will I comment on The Saturday Herald Sun as more fluff than news … yes, it is the best selling newspaper in town.
The Saturday Age looks and feels different in part because of the format change and in part because they are feeling the pressure of the new kid on the block for than others. The Age is thicker, heavier, feeling like it has more substance. Much of its bulk, however, comes from ads – you certainly notice these when you scan it next to The Saturday Paper which has less advertising, what feels like more meatier stories and is printed on better stock. In fact, this page by page comparison reveals a disruption by smaller format display advertising that reflects a real difference between the two products.
While it is considerably smaller, The Saturday Paper looks and feels more substantial to those who buy a newspaper for stories. This is an important point since this is why we buy newspapers today. The days of purchasing a newspaper on Saturday for car, job and real-estate advertising are over. If you are buying a paper on a Saturday for the classified advertising you’re getting to market too late. So, comparing stories how we must compare these products. The first edition of The Saturday Paper is a terrific start. I appreciate the space given to fully explore stories. I would like to read more voices on a broader selection of issues – as the newspaper develops.
I expect that we will see Fairfax tune its Saturday products in response to The Saturday Paper - just as the new newspaper will tune and adjust as it finds its feet. They will respond to consumer interest in a newspaper because of its stories by focussing more on stories. While they say they do this today, I expect they will find ways to feature stories more through design changes.
A newspaper purchase is not the habit it once was. Now, more than ever, the stories in a newspaper will drive sales. The new competition encourages this.
Yes, print newspapers are alive and competing. Good times.