After a turbulent 12 years, The Business finally ceased trading last week, despite a string of attempts to save it by publisher Andrew Neil.
Giving 300,000 copies of the paper away in the Mail on Sunday for six months, slashing the price, giving away free copies of upmarket magazines such as Time and Tatler and an eventual wholesale relaunch from pink paper to glossy magazine all failed to make it a commercially viable publication.
As it closed, The Business had a full-time editorial staff of five plus the editor – some of whom may now face redundancy.
Paul Woolfenden, the group general manager at Barclay brothers-owned Press Holdings Media, said that fierce online competition helped force the closure. The title also had a host of national newspaper supplements and weekly business titles such as The Economist and Forbes to contend with.
Woolfenden hopes that a change of strategy in launching new monthly title Spectator Business – given leverage by The Spectator’s notoriety – will prove more successful.
‘We have had to compete with the inevitable rise of the internet and a lot of print products are struggling with that conundrum,’he said. ‘It’s a jungle out there. A lot of top people don’t have the time to read another weekly – they are time-consuming, whereas a monthly is a more leisurely read.”
One City analyst said: ‘You can question the existence of any print business title these days – by definition you are getting yesterday’s news and I don’t think they ever overcame that. You could argue that the only reason the FT overcomes that is inertia of reader behaviour – people are in the behaviour of buying it and so they keep on buying it, even though an internet subscription would probably make far more sense to most of them. The business coverage in The Times from a UK-specific point of view is so strong, as is The Guardian, that you almost question
why you would buy a UK-specific business weekly. As a Sunday, The Business was never really journalistically strong enough.”
Although it had aimed to achieve sales of 50,000, The Business had an ABC of 41,426 when it closed, but only 9,511 of these copies were newstrade sales and 6,460 were subscriptions – the rest were giveaway bulks or controlled circulation.
Woolfenden claimed that due to the nature of its readership in the higher echelons of business, this was not a serious factor.
‘It’s not a numbers game in this marketplace – it’s about quality, and there are lots of magazines that do very well on a small circulation. In the hedge-fund market there are only about 5,000 people maximum, and yet you advertise something to that community and it is actually commercially worth a lot of money to you because they are very wealthy guys.”
Despite its lucrative readership, The Business still made total losses estimated at more than £50m. The latest accounts for The Business for the year ending 2006 show it made a loss of £4.85m. It reported turnover in 2006 of £1.87m, down from £2.33m and had debts of £1.62m. The Business had 25 full-time employees in 2006 – with combined salaries of £1.3m.
‘You have to think about where it came from,’Woolfenden said. ‘It was losing a lot less [before closure] than it ever did in the past. We halved the losses when we changed it from the Sunday Business to The Business and we’ve ebbed away at the losses as each year has gone by.”
Dan Pimm, head of press at media buyer Universal McCann, believes that The Business’s distribution was a major deterrent for advertisers.
He said: ‘The numbers never increased in terms of circulation. People questioned the distribution methods – there was a big controlled distribution. Advertisers are always quite wary of those distribution methods because you are never sure whether people are picking it up and reading it.
‘I think they would probably do well around that pre-Christmas time when the premium goods advertisers just need to go everywhere, but in the quieter periods like now, they would struggle to find space.’
The Business launch editor Jeff Randall, who still works for the Barclay brothers in his role as Daily Telegraph’s editor-at-large, said: ‘I regret the closure of any newspaper, but this one in particular. I spent three extremely stressful, but very rewarding years, starting the Sunday Business from scratch.
I regret that in the end it all came to nothing.”
The riseâ€¦ and fall: THEâ€ˆBUSINESSâ€ˆTIMELINE
1996: The title Sunday Business is launched as a weekly pink paper
1998: The title is bought by the Barclay brothers
2001: Launch editor Jeff Randall leaves the magazine
2002: All but 10 correspondents are made redundant. The title is renamed The Business, its shelf life extended to Monday, and the price is slashed in half to 50p. The Business recruits two new business writers
2003: In January, 47 jobs are axed as subbing and production is moved to the Press Association. Only a small team of staff writers and editorial executives remain. In July, new strategy sees 300,000 copies of The Business given away for free inside The Mail on Sunday and The Scotsman
2005: In February, The Business gives away free copies of Time, Fortune and The Week among others in an attempt to boost sales. Cover price is increased by 80p to £1.50.
2006: October sees a last-ditch attempt to save the title as it is relaunched as a glossy A4 magazine aimed at City traders and hedge-fund managers. The cover price is raised to £2.25. It publishes on a Thursday with a view to scoop the national Sunday business sections. Neil says it could rival titles such as The Economist and The Spectator in a few years, and that it will be making a profit in 2008
2007: The last ABC figure was 41,426 (9,511 were newstrade and 6,460 were subscriptions)
2008: Neil predicted that The Business would have broke into profit by now. Its sales remain stagnant at 41,426 while The Spectator posts its 11th consecutive sales rise, up five per cent to 75,633. Press Holdings announces the closure of The Business and the launch of a monthly business title, Spectator Business