Sunday papers must meet demands of modern world

As the old Cockney comedy and 1960 Max Bygraves hit pointed out, Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be, and this is especially true of what we once regarded as our day of rest: Sunday.

Steve Barrett, the editor of Media Week
Steve Barrett, the editor of Media Week
Once upon a time, not that long ago, the nation filled the Sabbath with church and a leisurely stroll through a selection of Sunday newspapers, possibly nipping into the local for a pint between noon and 2pm before heading home for a traditional roast dinner with the family, a snooze and more papers.

But now we are more likely to do the weekly shop, watch big sporting events (in stadia, on satellite TV or in pubs now open all day) and engage in active leisure pursuits. I know one TV sports reporter who has made a good career but refuses to work on Sundays for religious reasons. One can only assume his pro-gress will be held up in future as more and more sporting events move to the second day of the weekend. But he is in a minority.

Saturday papers have responded and expanded their remit, positioning themselves as a solution to weekend reading that negates the need to buy a separate Sunday newspaper.

TouchPoints data shows consumers' reading habits are changing to reflect the more active modern Sunday. The peak reading time is between 9.30am and noon, especially for the mid-market tabloids. This diminishes throughout the day, remaining slightly higher for the qualities.

The Sundays have responded in different ways. The News of the World launched Fabulous, a quality magazine aimed at young ABC1 women. But it continues to combine this with old-style sex scandals, which is a difficult balancing act to pull off.

In March's ABCs, the News of the World was down 1.9% month on month and 2.7% year on year, so the jury is still out on this strategy. The Sunday Mirror, down 0.7% month on month, and 3% year on year, is reinventing itself, going back to basics and concentrating on good old-fashioned news values.

Among the qualities, The Observer is performing best, up 1.3% to 461,739. The Sunday Times fell 2.5%, but has cushioned this with its £2 cover price.

People still want Sunday papers, or at least, a weekend read, but those papers have to respond to cultural shifts to ensure they deliver what readers want on the modern Sabbath.

Steve Barrett is editor of Media Week

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