David Banks: The People should serve Saga louts, not lager louts

They were the last generation to give up their seat on a bus. They still open doors for strangers and are careful not say 'fuck'in front of the vicar. They have Freeview on the front-room telly and a Teasmade on the bedroom trolley. The Winter Fuel Allowance flies them Easyjet to the Costas both sides of Christmas 'cos it's cheaper than heating the house.

With final-salary pensions, paid-up mortgages and the kids off their hands they're comfy, thank you. Who are they? The blue-collar, blue-rinse, blue-jeans geriatrics, that's who. They're not lager louts, they're Saga louts . . . the fastest-growing sector of newspaper readers in Britain. More importantly, they're the Sunday newspaper market The People forgot.

In my 40 years of adult life, that once-dominant newspaper's circulation has gone from 5.6 million to less than 700,000.

The People's offerings smack of a keen, under-resourced young staff desperate to compete for the weekend red-top market, but falling short. Mucky tales and kiss-and-tells? Leave that to the Sunday Mirror, The People's big sister in the Canary cage across the corridor. Crime and crumpet, sports and strumpets? That belongs to the News of the Screws, which despite its own decline easily outsells both of Trinity Mirror titles put together.

Sad fact is there's no room for the third Sunday Sensational unless it stops looking and reading like the raggle-taggle red-top that it currently is. Last Sunday's People was full of 'troubled Cerys'Somebody-or-Other and her I'm Not A Celebrity star lover getting it on; a girl called 'saucy Hope singer Phoebe", aged 16, dumping her gardener boyfriend like over-sexed 16-year-olds do; Spice Girls flopping, Amy Winehouse out bopping and Kylie out shopping. Old neighbours, it seems, die quicker than old habits.

What The People must realise is that:

  • An endless diet of crumpet and strumpet is a turn-off for traditional readers;
  • The future (or at least the next 25 years) belongs to Saga louts, not lager louts;
  • There is no – repeat NO – prospect of ever attracting young readers from the current freebie generation when they can distinguish no qualitative difference between a giveaway and an 85p copycat Currant Bun.

Far better to chase the Mail on Sunday market; adopt the great Sir David English ploy of courting bright women. When a story breaks, he would say, 'Get the wife, the mum, the granny . . ."

Why not turn The People into a modern weekend version of Titbits or Reveille? Sunday papers are out-sexed by the dailies and the hard-up People is further outpaced by its rivals come the Sabbath. Features, good reads both fictional and historical, competitions, travel and fashion offers and a homespun content built Sunday Post-style by encouraging reader involvement would pay dividends, if only by virtue of hunting down the paper's natural audience.

'Free for a Month with Every New Bus Pass!'is not a slogan tobe sneered at. Over-60s are habitual readers and, unlike later generations, were weaned on to newspapers. It has taken 20 years of blinkered management and a fashion for appointing adolescent editors to shake them loose.

There is an enormous, under-served constituency to be tracked down and signed up. For those potential readers health, travel and looking good are important. Spain, Portugal and Tenerife are their holiday haunts, Matalan and Primark their fashion labels, Marks and Spencer their makeover market.

Meanwhile, Trinity Mirror's management can play a vital part in any such media makeover: once the paper is editorially fit it can sample free or cut-price copies most effectively on the Costas, on Easyjet and Ryanair and in holiday camps, clinics and hospitals.

And to give The People a REAL advantage over its richer rivals, sell on BOTH days of the weekend. Major overnight changes, while encompassing breaking news, would be concentrated back-of-book: sports previews and features in the Saturday edition, live match reports and post-game interviews on a Sunday.

Oh, and in case you were wondering: this is NOT a job application. If TM really wanted a team to get The People moving it should look back to the pairing of Bridget Rowe with her sporting deputy Len Gould, the last dynamic duo to actually increase the paper's circulation.

As a cunning editor, Bridget might be mad, but she's not half bad!

David Banks is a former editor of the Daily Mirror

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