The Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition, which debuts
tomorrow, sounds like a great idea when you first think about it. But the more media people think about it, the more doubts they have about the
new Saturday paper.
Dow Jones has a lot of selling to do to convince them
it’s a brilliant idea, and so far the company hasn’t done it.
“It’s a solution in search of a market,” observes Michael
Neiss, senior vice president and managing director of Universal McCann.
“It’s a good product, but if I had to invent a new media form, it
wouldn’t be the Saturday Wall Street Journal. It’s like going to a
pool party in a pinstriped suit. As relaxed as they think they will make
it, it’s still pretty uptight.”
Executives at The Journal are looking to the new edition
as a means to increase the paper's share of consumer ad dollars as it faces further declines in its traditional base of
business and financial advertisers.
They also see it as an opportunity to put Friday's news in readers'
hands the very next day, rather than on Monday, which is when readers
traditionally saw Friday's headlines.
“There are two things going on,” Journal managing
editor Paul Steiger tells Media Life.
“Principally, readers asked for it. In addition,
the business side of the paper liked it because it increases the
penetration of the business-to-consumer market and thus increases the
Circulation of the Saturday paper will match the 1.75
million copies of weekdays, Steiger says. Weekday subscribers will receive the
extra edition for free, and it will be available at newsstands for $1.50.
The new Saturday edition will arrive in three sections,
with the first devoted to hard news. The second one, Money &
Investing, will focus on personal finance and financial markets. The
third section, Pursuits, will have a softer focus. That’s where
you’ll find stories about everything from sports and travel to fashion and
The Journal seeks to build on the success of its Weekend
Journal section on Fridays, which began in 1998, and its Personal Journal
section, which runs Tuesday through Thursday and started in 2002.
But media buyers have questions about distribution and the wisdom
of entering an already crowded weekend marketplace. The Journal itself is
heavy with lifestyle content in its Friday edition, which includes the
Weekend Journal. And the Weekend Edition will have to fight for readers
with The New York Times, Parade, USA Weekend and Life, not to mention the
Saturday and Sunday editions of local newspapers around the country.
It's likely to face a similar struggle competing for
ad dollars. The Journal’s ad slump began with the dot.com bust in
2000. Ad linage has dropped in each of the past four years, and in the
second quarter of this year it was off 6.3
percent from the year-earlier period. Much of that hurt has come from the paper's heavy reliance on technology and financial service
ads. The Journal’s financial ads plummeted 24 percent in the
first quarter from a year ago, and its technology ads slipped 23 percent.
Advertisers’ response to the Saturday paper has been
strong so far, Steiger says.
“I learned today [Thursday] that 120 advertisers have
signed up for the Weekend Edition, up from 90 last week,” he says.
“The ad sales team is seeing an increasing connection to the
business-to-consumer market, because now they are able to market during
the weekend, which is often a better time to hawk their wares.”
And he doesn’t see the bevy of weekend competitors
constraining the Saturday paper’s advertising opportunities. “We’re
the exciting new kids on the block, so this gives us an opportunity,” he
The Journal’s affluent readership demographics and the
importance of the weekend for shopping should bring some consumer
ads to the Weekend Edition.
“They will succeed in bringing in luxury
goods, maybe some high-end packaged goods and high-end, women-oriented
retail goods, thanks to the higher percentage of women reading on
weekends,” says Universal McCann's Neiss.
The question is whether there will be enough
new advertising dollars to offset the $12.5 million in operating losses the company will
incur with the new edition's rollout, not to mention the added costs of the
in coming years.
While The Journal as a national paper won’t provide the
ad opportunities for department stores that local papers do, with so many
department stores owned by national chains, they are likely to place some
ads in Weekend Edition. Real estate companies may be attracted to the
Saturday paper as well, though the local nature of the real estate
business could limit ad potential in that sector.
But there's also the risk that the new edition will cannibalize ads from
the weekday papers, tempting advertisers to spread existing ad dollars
over the six days rather than increasing budgets to add a sixth day.
“Will the consumer advertisers they have now just want to
do the same spending over six days?” wonders John Morton, a longtime newspaper
analyst in Silver Spring, Md.
To be sure, the Saturday edition does plug a news hole for
The Journal. “Until now World War III could break out on a Friday, and
you wouldn’t find out about it in The Wall Street Journal until
Monday,” Morton notes.
But the paper has several distribution issues to overcome. First, Dow Jones must make sure that readers who get the
paper at their office on weekdays remember to inform the company of their
“My big fear is that subscribers won’t respond to Dow
Jones’ many requests for their Saturday addresses and the Saturday
Journal will go to addresses where they aren’t,” says Jack Hanrahan,
director of print operations for OMD USA.
The Journal so far has received sending instructions from
90 percent of subscribers, Steiger says, and he expects most of the rest
to reply shortly after the first Saturday paper is published.
Another problem The Journal may face is that its hyper-busy
subscriber base doesn’t have time to read another periodical over the
“Will there be enough time carved out of a busy Saturday
to spend time with this thing?” wonders Neiss. “The spirit is
willing, but the flesh may be weak."
And wealthy consumers have plenty of other options to plan
their weekend entertainment and spending activities apart from Weekend
“It’s not essential reading,” Neiss says. His advice
to advertisers considering the Saturday paper: “I wouldn’t recommend
being the first one in.”