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New Sundays set for head-on collision

THERE will be a race on August 12 this year -- not to bring home the grouse, but to get out the news. Two new projected Sunday newspapers intend to bring out their first full-scale dummies on Sunday, August 13.

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The Sunday Correspondent's launch date is September 17, giving them five weeks of trial and error to knock the format and printing style into shape. The Independent On Sunday's launch date depends on the fate of the Correspondent, but they are gearing up for action.

The declining sales of the existing quality Sunday papers, far from being a deterrent, are the spur to the new thinking, to the extent of excited talk of another newspaper war based on editorial content instead of free gifts and competitions. The success of the daily Independent, despite predictions of despair, has provided the confidence for others to turn ideas into reality, and has provided a role model that the Correspondent is following very closely.

Chief executive Nick Shott, in Glasgow yesterday on the last leg of a round-Britain tour wooing advertising agencies, was confident he was winning over the cynics.

After 18 years at Express Newspapers, where he became group marketing director, he is now aiming unequivocally at an AB readership, although expecting to pick up some sales from the top end of the middle market. Sidestepping the theory of the market gap into which the new product will neatly fit, he cites once again the experience of the Independent, which took readers from its rivals among the qualities, who in turn gained new readers from elsewhere.

Sunday newspapers are slightly different, but Mr Shott clearly sets store by the market research they have carried out extensively and assiduously, which shows increasing dissatisfaction with both the Sunday Times and Observer and interest in a new quality Sunday paper from at least half, and more significantly the younger, readers of the Guardian and the Independent.

The theory that the popularity of their recently expanded Saturday editions will mean that some people will spread thair daily newspaper over the weekend and not buy a separate Sunday is dismissed by the Correspondent's team, who point out that sales of the heavier Sundays have been declining over several years and did not happen last autumn with the launch of the Independent's magazine and the revamped Guardian Weekend.

The prospect of an Independent On Sunday remains a spectre on the horizon. Nick Shott agrees that both are unlikely to succeed, and that the announcement of a September 17 launch for the Correspondent has effectively spiked their guns. Stephen Glover, the Independent's foreign editor, who is editor designate of the Independent On Sunday, believes it is the Sunday Correspondent that will fail:

''The economics of a stand-alone Sunday paper are very difficult, even with contracted-out printing. It is difficult to imagine how it can avoid refinancing, and will probably need more money early next year. We believe that we will have a better product, because we will have a much bigger pool of correspondents to draw from. In terms of foreign correspondents, for example, we will have a pool of about 20 where they will have three or four.

''We are going ahead with a complete dummy on August 13, with live copy from more than 100 journalists, and we will then put it out to market research for comparison with existing newspapers. The Correspondent may be doing the same, but we have time on our side.''

The Correspondent's circulation and advertising targets have been carefully pitched at a modest level of average sales of 360,000 in the first year. That is the break-even point, although only about half the Observer level or a quarter of the Sunday Times. It is a figure that would have been impossible to sustain a stand-alone Sunday newspaper even a few years ago. The economics are possible by contracted-out printing (at Portsmouth, Peterborough, and Stoke-on-Trent) and distribution by road as well as new technology with direct input by journalists. The plan is to come out of the first year with a circulation of 425,000.

While their initial share of circulation is targeted at 13%, they have budgeted for only 7% of the advertising. They expect to get #15m of the #234m worth of advertising in the quality Sunday market at the moment. Despite predictions of an economic downturn, Mr Shott points out that the Advertising Association is still predicting growth, although it may be as low as 1%.

Unlike the competition there will be no regional advertising -- and no special supplement for Scotland -- although there will be page changes for Scotland, Wales, and English regions particularly for sport, but also to take account of special interest stories. The target circulation for Scotland is 40,000, and that is expected to be complementary to rather than in competition with Scotland On Sunday.

The competitors remain the Sunday Times and Observer north of the Border. They took advice, but the unionist view prevailed: ''The quality readership we are after includes the strong business community in Scotland who recognise they are part of the UK business sector. We do not want to produce a supplement which says, in a patronising way, 'here's a bit for Scotland','' said Mr Shott.

The true gap in the market will become apparent only when potential readers see the quality of the product, he says, claiming that politically it will be ''non-aligned, but not neutral in the sense of being woolly-minded and sitting on the fence.'' Their research has revealed an unexpected public awareness of proprietorial pressure.

''People see that the Observer has been used to press the case against the Fayeds and that the Sunday Times is being used to promote Sky Television. None of our financial backers has more than 8% of the equity, so there is no danger of one proprietor using it as a vehicle to promote his interest,'' he said.

A surprise among the backers, which include the Prudential Group, Hambros, Rothschild Ventures, Guardian Royal Exchange, Eagle Star, Barclays Bank, and the Clydesdale Bank, is the Tribune Company of Chicago, publishers of the Chicago Tribune. ''Their policy could not be more hands-off. They say if we want their help or knowledge, then it is up to us to go to them and ask for it.''

The format will be broadsheet, but with only two sections plus a colour magazine. The first section will be news, business, and politics and the second features, books, arts, and sport. The colour section will be a magazine, not a supplement, and will never have more than 50% advertising, edited by Henry Porter of the Illustrated London News. Mr Shott expects him to produce more of the individual style of journalism that sent reporters to top London restaurants with doggy bags and then on to the Environmental Health Department to the subsequent mortification of famous names.

''People do not want huge papers. On a Sunday they want news plus something lighter in the way of features. One thing our surveys have revealed is that people now equate quality with boring and entertaining with downmarket. Neither of those should be true. There is room for entertainment, elegance, and wit.''

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