The Weekender is an excellent newspaper and a clever initiative by BDFM and Johncom. That it is going to succeed is obvious. I buy it every Saturday and spent a good fat hour or two on it. The articles are well-written and interesting. Here are reasons why I think it will succeed:
1. Poor competition. I don’t think the Saturday Star is a good newspaper at the moment. It’s largely perceived to be a wrapping for its extensive property section. It carries too many wire articles and not enough original scoops of its own and overall I just don’t like the quality of the offering. There was a recent attempt to upgrade the paper in light of competition from The Weekender, but it was a light upgrade which has done little to change the newspaper and it was largely too little, too late. It appears to me that there is not enough investment from the Independent Group in its newspapers — the Saturday Star being the prime example. I used to buy the Saturday Star, purely in the absence of anything else available and I have to admit, I was perpetually disappointed. I also never understood why the Personal Finance section of the Saturday Star kept winning so many awards, because this was one section of the newspaper I would always turn to and be disappointed. It was an easy decision to migrate to the Weekender. And now I will never go back. Competition is a wonderful thing, aint it?
2. Weekend newspapers under less pressure from online. Newspapers are to some extent under pressure from the internet. This is particularly pronounced for the daily, weekday newspapers, such as the Star and Business Day, who compete head on with online publishers. The internet is predominantly a weekday, day time, work channel, and this is where the internet is hurting newspapers. The Mail & Guardian Online which now gets almost 600 000 readers and 3-million page impressions a month is growing at a terrific rate, but its traffic drops to a fifth or more on weekends (and public holidays). Weekend papers are relatively safe from competition from the internet: the Mail & Guardian newspaper, the Sunday Times and the Weekender — so it was clever decision to launch a weekend offering (but also probably made sense because Business Day was a weekday, daily). Broadband will probably mean internet surfing will occur to a greater extent in the evenings (compete with TV) and weekends — but this is a long way off of reaching critical mass and I doubt it will ever be as big as daytime, work reading in South Africa. Reading a newspaper is also about lifestyle, I prefer the crack of a newspaper at my weekend breakfast table than an unwieldy, noisy laptop.
3. Quality journalism. The Weekender is a quality paper and has well-written, in-depth articles. I like its columnists — and I’ve seen different, exclusive stories, not a rehash of what happened during teh week or on Friday. It is the Mail & Guardian of Saturday, but with more of a business edge. After the offering has stabilised, I look forward to a fatter Weekender with a glossy mag or two such as motoring, property or food.
4. Practical, appealing size. The Berliner format is luxurious enough not to be a simple tabloid, but small enough to make it easy to page through and hold, unlike the broadsheets. The international newspaper trend is towards the Berliner format (as witnessed in the UK), and I would urge many of South Africa’s broadsheets to take note and follow the Weekender’s example.
5. Financially viable business model. The Weekender cover price should ensure that Johncom/BDFM make nice revenue out of the venture. Quite frankly, I don’t care about the fact that it is R10 — I’d even pay more for it.
Congratulations to the Weekender for giving South Africans a newspaper we can be proud of and something worthy to read on a Staurday afternoon. I can’t wait for their ABC figures, because I have a feeling the paper is taking off.