Can The Business reinvent itself as London's first global business magazine?

After 10 years of alchemistic experimentation, The Business publisher Andrew Neil believes he has finally discovered the formula which will transform the title into pure gold for owners the Barclay brothers.

This week the Sunday broadsheet shrinks to A4 magazine size and switches its publication day to Thursday, in the hope that some 60,000 readers will now pay £2.25 for it — rather than the 20,000-odd who currently pay £1 and the 100,000 who get it for free.

It is not the first time Neil has tried a radical gambit to reverse losses now totalling around £50m for the title.

In January 2002, the paper cut 47 jobs through a deal whereby the Press Association provided all its editorial infrastructure apart from staff writers and a handful of executives. Then, in July 2003, Neil announced plans to give away 300,000 free copies inside the Mail on Sunday and The Scotsman which he said would be a "dagger to the heart of The Sunday Times".

That deal was scrapped after six months and since then The Business has kept its circulation up mainly by free mail-outs to affluent readers.

Press Gazette asked Neil why his latest plan will be any more successful than the previous ones.

He said: "Because we may have finally got it right. Why doesn't anyone in this industry give us some credit for tenacity? We've tried to keep this going in the most difficult of circumstances and not given up. It's not as if I'm short of other things to do."

He pointed out that projected losses this year were down to £3m — "that's a huge improvement" — and he added the losses had not been an "unbearable burden" for Press Holdings as a group.

A reference to the fact that losses at The Business could be offset against the tax burden from more profitable parts of the empire — such as Scotsman Publications.

He added: "What we couldn't see in the foreseeable future was turning that loss into a profit. Our budget projections for the magazine are to move into profit in year two, with losses next year reduced to a million.

"In the age of the internet the magazine is a better bet. This is now a magazine country and I think it will do better as a magazine."

Neil said the economics of publishing The Business as a magazine are made attractive by the fact that Press Holdings also publishes The Spectator. Printing and distribution costs are shared between the two titles — and from January, when they move into the shared offices, they will also have the same production staff.

The Business now has an off-stone time of 2pm on Wednesday and will be available within the M25 — and 75 per cent of the whole country — on Thursday morning.

Neil said: "One of the things that will make this magazine distinctive is its ability to break scoops. The first section should be all breaking news or scoops."

The Business magazine has a similar look to the old newspaper — with many of the same regular sections — but is now in full colour and on white, rather than the old pink pages.

Neil said: "Having had a radical change of format and a change of publishing day we thought that would be change enough for our readers — without having a radical change of content, since content was never the problem."

However be predicted that "over time" the magazine will "take on a life of its own" and he emphasised that he was keen to carry over as many as possible of the current readers.

As of Monday, he said that some 12,000 subscribers had already signed up. Neil is aiming for a sale of 47,000 at launch, breaking down as roughly: 15,000 subscription, 20,000 newsstand, 5,000 in a bulk deal with British Airways First and Business Class, 3,000 overseas and 5,000 controlled free via a five-week sampling offer. He said the current break-even circulation target is 60,000.

Describing the driving philosophy behind the title, he said: "The Business is essentially for that international global business community that has grown up in London over the past 20 years, really since the Big Bang. It is London's first global business magazine."

He added: "It is not a magazine for London as the capital of Britain, but for London as the capital city of international finance. London is Europe's answer to New York and New York's only rival in the world. New York has Business Week, Fortune, Forbes, Baron's and some small ones.

"London doesn't have a single business magazine. There is no question there is a gap in the market, now we need to prove there's a market in that gap."

This year Press Holdings has sold off The Scotsman for £161m, and women's interest website Handbag.com (for a reported £22m). Neil's empire now consists of The Spectator, The Business and specialist art and antiques magazine Apollo.

But fuelled by revenue from those sales — both at handsome profits — he says he has a war chest to buy more niche independent publications.

He says: "My aim is to build a magazine group and my hope is that over time, as we build it up, we will add a couple of magazines to the group, and it could be worth £50m in three or four years time."

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