You may not have realised it yet, but your weekend is about to get much better if you live in Sydney, Canberra or Melbourne. The good news comes in the form of a new, crisply printed paper being launched today.
Since business newsdesks around the world love nothing more than running down the very patch of media in which they operate (the grubby, inky world of print) while fawning over every new technology toddler, it’s possible that you haven’t heard of this seriously disruptive start-up from Down Under.
The Saturday Paper comes from a Melbourne-based entrepreneur and band of editors who have made the bold move of going head-to-head with the Australian media establishment. It comes at a time when many of the world’s big news groups are considering what to do with their print editions from Monday to Friday (go exclusively online? Drop home delivery? Limit distribution to big cities only?) while placing more emphasis on their weekend editions (The FT, for example, has a big global campaign to bolster its weekend offering).
The Saturday Paper cuts out the cost that comes with running a newspaper throughout the week and is building on a readership base from an established sister magazine, The Monthly. Publisher Morry Schwartz’s move to shake up weekend reading should be monitored closely by press barons, both established and emerging.
As the first edition is going to press while I’m typing this column, I haven’t had the opportunity to sample its editor Erik Jensen’s vision of what a 21st-century newspaper should be – but I did chat to a colleague in Australia who saw a dummy edition and was most impressed. Sound journalism aside (The Saturday Paper has built up a team of talent plucked from all corners of the Australian media establishment), the new launch has also placed considerable emphasis on the very feature that will define it on Australian newsstands – high-quality, bright white newsprint.
“That’s a significant part of what a paper like this has to do, and in many respects it is a hybrid between a magazine and a newspaper,” Jensen told Monocle’s Brisbane correspondent Nolan Giles. “We’re printing on a stock that’s thicker than newspaper stock and we are trying to do things in the issue that don’t really conform to typical newspaper convention.”
While the launch team are obviously hoping to lure people away from the likes of The Age and The Australian, they are also setting their sights on readers who might have drifted away from a weekend read altogether – and at the same time targeting what might be called the “post-newspaper generation”.
“A paper like ours says something about its readers; it’s an expression of who that person sitting in a café on a Saturday morning is,” Jensen adds. “Such people might be seduced by the fact that this is not a conventional newspaper and it’s a different way of doing the news.”
On a recent swing through Australia and New Zealand, it was easy to see the opportunity that exists to deliver a heftier weekend read to challenge the incumbents. Publishers might see the advantages (savings?) in pushing everyone on to tablets and mobiles to get their news, but a wander around smarter neighbourhoods in Auckland, Sydney and Melbourne on a Saturday morning proves how much readers like to stretch out with papers after a run in the park or a swim at the beach. The tablet doesn’t get a look-in as part of the ritual. The simple fact is that people are unlikely to take their tablet out for a run and there’s something unsatisfying about squinting at a small screen while tucking into your sourdough and scrambled eggs.
Many papers continue to downsize when they should be investing in paper quality and playing with the luxury of large-scale media real estate (an open broadsheet doubles as outdoor advertising for many brands). The Saturday Paper has a unique opportunity to remind publishers of the value in delivering something tactile and tangible while also rethinking the business model of getting out a weekend edition.
Boasting a staff of just 18 (likely to grow if the paper takes off), the venture shows that you don’t need a battalion of launch staff, particularly if you have a focused target market.
The FT’s fine patch of salmon-pink newsprint (and its competitors) should welcome a newcomer such as The Saturday Paper, if for no other reason than the fact that there’s always safety in numbers.
● You can hear a special edition of my radio show The Stack on Monocle 24 where I’ll be in conversation with FT Weekend editor Caroline Daniel and The Saturday Paper’s team about the power of the weekend edition. It’s on at 10am UK time on Saturday and then available for download.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine
More columns at ft.com/brule