‘Pop-up’ newspaper The New European: Can print be more agile than digital?
Launched right after the Brexit vote in the UK, The New European is a pop-up newspaper aimed at the audience who voted “no”. How did the team manage to launch, in 2016, a print news outlet in a mostly digital-first publishing world? Matt Kelly, founder of the newspaper (and newly appointed GEN Board member) answered some questions for us.
Bertrand Pecquerie: You started The New European (TNE) two weeks after the Brexit referendum. Do you know when the last issue will be released?
Matt Kelly: No! That’s a nice part of this story. We planned on just four issues, but the response has been so positive that we are currently carrying on, on a rolling four-week basis. This week we produced issue 13, so that means there will be at least 17 issues, and I suspect probably a lot more than that. Every issue has been profitable, which is a remarkable fact largely due to the different model we employed — a very quick, very small marketing budget and total freedom to give [the paper] our best shot in the knowledge that if it fails then the business exposure will be very limited. But thus far, it hasn’t failed and in fact it is growing in popularity every week.
Can you provide us with some figures about readership and sales figures? Is there an “average reader” of TNE?
The paper sold 40,000 copies on week one and although sales dipped a little in the summer holidays, as you’d expect, our circulation has grown for the last four weeks. It’s been a very positive trend. We do have some advertising, but our business model is largely based on the fact that we sell for £2 a copy. We have a six or seven full pages of advertising in each issue and we sell this at a significant premium to our other titles.
Almost half the British population voted to stay in, yet you describe your audience as niche. Is your target narrower than just those voters?
I’m not sure it’s really niche. I suppose the correct term is “well-defined”. I think the success of the paper has been how clear it is in who it is talking to. The 48 percent know who they are and we know where they are. The initial distribution map for The New European closely followed all the major remain areas in the country, although we have since broadened that and now supply more than 40,000 shops with the paper, in addition to major European cities, including Brussels!
“If we’d launched The New European as a website, who the hell would have paid for it?”
What lessons can we glean from the fact that you launched a profitable print newspaper in 2016?
Firstly, that it is still possible to innovate in print. I have spent most of my career helping legacy businesses fulfil their potential in digital. But I think print is still, and always will be, an incredibly powerful medium. It can trigger engagement in many other platforms and has a very high sense of concrete value. If we’d launched The New European as a website, who the hell would have paid for it? Nobody. We are profitable because we had the confidence to set the price-point relatively high (although I still think newspapers are dreadfully unpriced in the UK — cheaper than a cappuccino!)
The takeaway from this is that the price is not the most important consideration in reader’s minds — it’s time. The real question we are all asking ourselves in these days of massive oversupply of content is “do I have the time to read this?”
What do you mean when you say that print can sometimes be “more agile than digital”?
Well, print has the reputation for being somehow an old and tired medium. But you have to remember the thing we all take for granted is that the production of a newspaper is a miracle in time management. If you have talented design and distribution teams (which we, at Archant are lucky to have), then putting a brand new paper together, from concept to newstands, in nine days is just about achievable. Contrast that with the time it takes to design and build a bespoke website, and newspapers win every time. Of course we could have thrown out an off-the-shelf digital experience just as quickly, but who would have noticed!
“If you have talented design and distribution teams then putting a brand new paper together, from concept to newsagent shelf, in nine days is just about achievable”
You’ve already outlived your initial projection. How long do you envision The New European lasting? Will you broaden the subject matter?
We will continue to evolve the paper but right now there is more than enough interest in Brexit and politics in the UK to sustain us. We deliberately split the paper into three parts from day one: Agenda, which is our high-level take on the week’s events. Expertise, which is where we have some of the best writers and most influential people in the UK making sense of Brexit; and then Eurofile, which is a very eclectic and exciting mix of articles and features about why we all love Europe in the first place. We’ve had fabulous writing on pop music, architecture, cartoons, virtual reality, wildlife, and travel in the Eurofile section, so the opportunities in that part of the paper (which is almost half on the total pages) are endless. At its heart, though, I think The New European must retain a serious focus on these very interesting times we live in. It won’t morph into some sort of European cultural magazine. God knows there are enough of them in the world already.
Do you see parallels between The New European and other pop-up news on different media (e.g. single-subject news sites, short-run podcasts, etc.)?
Yes, I think all these things are a recognition that people have changed how they consume media. Lots of it, in great depth, but for a short period of time. That’s challening if you have a five-year marketing plan but not so much if you just intend to pop-up for a few weeks of months and then disappear.
Are pop-up news part of the future of news or just nice experiments? Do you have already in mind some other pop-up printing ideas at Archant?
I think they are part of the future of news. The success of The New European will encourage us to experiment more with pop-up publishing, and we will do it in the sprit of adventure and not the sense of fear that can sometimes paralyse organisations in our industry when so much is changing and when the business environment is so tough.
“We will do it [experiment] in a sprit of adventure and not the sense of fear that can sometimes paralyse organisations in our industry.”
What does a strongly politically-slanted publication do for Archant as a brand? Were there any Archant brands (or readers) that were upset by the decision to publish The New European? Can such a decision be counter-productive in the long term?
It’s not really political in the old sense of the word. We apeall to people across the old political spectrums and I think that’s a reflection of a bigger reality; that politics has changed but politicians haven’t noticed. People don’t want the old left-versus-right bashing contest that they had to suffer for generations. They feel either open or closed, enthusiastic or threatened to the opportunities of globalisation. Both positions are reasonable. We just believe we are better off in an open, connected world. I think the launch of The New European has been very positive for Archant. It demonstrates how progressive and innovative we are and how we are open to new ideas. If some people think that’s a bad thing, I’d be surprised!
Your most recent issue includes a #ChartOfShame that accuses British newspapers of brainwashing the population to fear refugees. What was the reaction from the newspapers you accused?
Nothing. What they do is indefensible, and they are too clever to try defending the indefensible. But I like to think we spoiled some editors’ weekends with that issue.
If Archant Group decides to stop the publication of TNE, what will happen for the readers? Will you offer them an online discussion or forum? And how will you use the database collected since the first issue of The New European?
Don’t know but we are already thinking about extending the brand into other formats — digital, of course, but newsletters, events and merchandise. We’ve already sold hundreds of t-shirts and mugs with our branding so we will live on in some way. Happily, as each issue continues to grow, that decision seems to be some way off!
Sarah T. contributed to this interview.
Prashant Panday—Entertainment Network India
“English print media industry is growing at around 2 percent.” (Moneycontrol.com, 9 September 2016)
Jane Singer—City University London
“It’s a very encouraging demonstration that even in print, a smart publisher can pivot and say, ‘We’re going to try something different,’” (The New York Times, 13 September 2016)
Guy Crevier — La Presse
“In simple terms, there are about 100 jobs being lost that are tied directly to stopping the print newspaper on weekdays. We are no longer the same business.” (The Globe and Mail, 24 September 2015)
Jane Martinson — The Guardian, on the failed attempt at print by The New Day
“This is a terrible time to launch a newspaper”. “We have to welcome a brave and optimistic attempt to do something in this market. Was it ill-conceived though? I would say yes.” (The Week, 5 May 2016)
About Matt Kelly:
Matt Kelly is currently Chief Content Officer at Archant Limited and founder of The New European. He is also a board member of the Global Editors Network. He has played a leading role in newspaper publishing innovation for two decades. As publisher of the UK’s Daily Mirror portfolio of websites, he launched a string of successful new digital brands and products, including MirrorFootball.co.uk and 3am.co.uk, across a wide range of platforms. An expert in digital strategy, newsroom structure and web design, he passionately believes the key to publishing success in the digital age is a blend of technology and editorial brilliance, creating what he describes as an emotional engagement with the customer.