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May 9, 2008

Spectator Business: Champagne editorial — but the publisher is drinking something different

By Peter Kirwan MM blog

Andrew Neil has been celebrating the success of Spectator Business. Apparently, the first edition attracted £75,000-worth of advertising — off the back of a “free” circulation of 42,000.

Who are the lucky 42,000?

I had a good look around, but The Spectator‘s web site seems to be silent on the matter. Likewise that bit of the site reserved for Spectator Business.

But here comes Media Week, with the suggestion that 12,000 copies will be distributed to, er, people travelling first-class on Eurostar and staying in five-star hotels in London.

Bulks, in other words. Mysteriously, a further 30,000 will be sent out to “targeted customers”.

Who they? Beats me.

Could some of them be drawn from The Spectator‘s subscriber base? Possibly, but if that’s the case, advertisers might start opting for cheap pages in Spectator Business (rather than expensive ones in Spectator proper).

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Cannibalization isn’t pleasant. And perhaps this explains why Spectator Business has been so indistinct about its circulation strategy.

Of course, it’s never been the done thing to look too closely at the circulations of British business magazines. Even so, Neil’s efforts to sustain upmarket products off the back of weak circulation arguments strike a bum note.

Demented circulation wheezes were a speciality of [The/Sunday] Business, which itself went through more incarnations than the Dalai Lama.

Now, apparently, Spectator Business has inherited some of the same genes.

But if this spin-off starts out with a flimsy circulation, the aim — presumably — is to sign up lots of honest-to-goodness subscribers, and quickly.

(Or is it? Having just visited the Spectator Business web site, I find I can’t subscribe online. All it would take is a little bit of HTML and a Google Checkout account, but no — Instead, I need to call Axis Media Ltd on 0141 335 9062. Like lots of potential subscribers, I suspect, I’ve postponed doing this. Probably indefinitely.)

But let’s assume that Spectator Business has a run of luck with subscribers. Let’s assume — generously — that it manages to accrue 10,000+ of them.

What then? A good deal more will be needed to credibly challenge the market leader — Haymarket’s Management Today, which has been plugging away successfully for 40 years.

MT distributes over 50% of its 100,000 circulation for free, but tops up that number by sending copies to 42,000 members of the otherwise unremarkable Institute of Management.

For years, it’s been MT‘s link with the Institute’s self-selected audience — plus some excellent content — that has allowed it to trounce competitors with that big six-figure circulation.

Will Spectator Business‘s small audience of foyer flaneurs and Eurostar commuters trump Haymarket’s bigger, more controlled, reach?

In the eyes of media planners who treat business magazines as an optional add-on to schedules, I doubt it.

Andrew Neil’s continuing quest to launch a worthwhile business magazine in Britain is becoming painful to watch.

As the livewire editor of a tumescent Sunday Times between 1983 and 1994, Neil did as much as anyone to condition us to consume vast amounts of newsprint every weekend — and ignore magazines.

Surely, by now, the man has already done enough to atone for his sins?

As for Martin Vander Weyer, the excellent editor of Spectator Business, everyone knows that he is capable of generating champagne for the business brain.

Sadly, his publisher’s circulation strategy seems to be running on Irn-Bru.

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