The boss of an Oxfordshire-based independent newspaper says he is “up for the fight” after American-backed publishing group Newsquest announced the launch of a rival free weekly title serving the county.
Howard Taylor, founder and managing director of Taylor Newspapers that owns the Oxfordshire Guardian, said he took the launch of the Oxfordshire Star as both a “compliment” and a direct threat.
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“It may sound as if we are coming over as aggressive but we think this latest move by Newsquest is a challenge to us directly,” he told Press Gazette. “We aren’t going to lie down and take it – we are going to fight it as much as we can.”
The Star is expected to have a print readership of about 22,000 and will be available to pick up at sites throughout the county when the first issue comes out on Thursday 2 June. It will feature news, sport and leisure, as well as property, motors and jobs.
The launch wasn’t entirely unexpected for Taylor Newspapers, with Taylor saying he heard “some time ago” that Newsquest were planning a county-wide freebie after they closed the paid-for Oxford Star a couple of years ago.
“We are up for the fight,” he said. “We have stood our ground and, between me and my associate director Julian Richings, we have been in the industry a long time and have the capability to take on Newsquest and that’s what we have been doing for the last couple of years.”
“In a way we feel as though we are being complimented by the fact they are following us [into the free weekly market],” he said, but added: “It’s very much a head to head.”
The Oxfordshire Guardian will have seven editions, once Banbury joins the fold from next week, but it is the only title Taylor Newspapers runs in the county.
It was set up three years ago to replace the Oxford Courier, founded in the 1980s, and claims a circulation of more than 25,000 copies with weekly editions regularly reaching more than 100 pages, said Taylor.
Newsquest currently owns six print titles in Oxfordshire, though most are paid-for titles, including daily the Oxford Mail and weeklies The Oxford Times, The Herald Series, the Bicester Advertiser, the Witney Gazette and free weekly the Banbury Cake.
Chris Moore, managing director of Oxfordshire & Wiltshire, said the Star was the created following feedback from advertisers and staff.
He said: “We believe there is a good opportunity for us to extend and develop our print audience via the launch of a new free newspaper that complements our existing portfolio of paid for newspapers, magazines and digital platforms.
“The Oxfordshire Star will further strengthen our reach with the growing population in the county and provide an additional platform for local advertisers.”
Newsquest is owned by Gannett Company, which publishes USA Today, after the Virginia-based firm bought the group in 1999 for £904m.
Taylor Newspapers also produce the Basingstoke Observer and the Newbury and Thatcham Observer with plans to expand the Observer series.