|Rupert Murdoch - Few saw the Sun on Sunday's imminent launch|
THERE IS never an ideal time to either have a baby or launch a newspaper.
If we sat around waiting for the perfect economic conditions, we would have neither.
That is why we have such a thing as, ‘the force of nature’. Rupert Murdoch is part of that force.
Just ten days ago I advocated the launch of the Sun on Sunday immediately.
On February 10th, I said, “And the time for that to happen is now.
“The News of the World readers loved nothing more than its bold and controversial nature.
“And there would be nothing more bold or more controversial than the launch of a fresh Murdoch tabloid right in the eye of the storm.”
And that is exactly what he has done.
By announcing a snap decision to publish this Sunday, he has left the opposition in the starting blocks. So wrong footed are they by this, they haven’t even got their running shoes on.
Trinity Mirror, having failed to invest and capitalise on the closure of the News of the World, are now officially in retreat and slashing costs and cutting staff.
The coast is clear for Murdoch to launch a full-frontal assault on the Sunday market.
By launching a Sunday edition of the Sun, rather than a new title, he is also able to tap into his existing readership base at the daily.
If just 25% of the existing 2,800,000 readers pick up the Sunday edition, that’s still 700,000 readers before he has spent a penny promoting it.
Then there are the 1,300,000 News of the World readers who have given up buying a Sunday red-top.
Many of these are second newspaper buyers. Those who bought the Sunday Times or Sunday Telegraph and picked up the News of the World as well.
When it closed, they tried The Sunday Mirror, People or Star on Sunday but dumped them swiftly as poor imitations.
These readers don’t have to be prised away from a rival paper. They are floating around ready to buy something that looks like the News of the World again.
So again, if just 25% of these people pick up the Sun on Sunday, that’s another 325,000 readers.
Already, the Sun on Sunday has a potential readership of just over 1,000,000 with relatively low start-up costs.
Add to that the novelty factor, growing brand awareness, aggressive marketing and the inevitable price war, and the numbers will inevitably start to head towards the meaningful 2,000,000 figure and beyond.
Launching the newspaper in the middle of a controversy is no bad marketing tactic either. There is popularity in notoriety.
It’s also time for News International to move out of the frozen mode it has reverted to since the hacking and bribery crisis engulfed it.
Businesses that stand paralysed in a crisis invariably collapse. Murdoch may not be able to control the wind but he can certainly alter his sails.
And by launching a Sun on Sunday, he is moving his company, if not into sunlit uplands, then into a new era of self-confidence which has characterised all his News International products over the decades but has been crucially lost.
There are some negative factors of course.
It has been more than seven months since the News of the World closed and the world has kept spinning quite nicely without it. How will that affect readership come-back?
Sunday tabloids live or die by sensational exclusives. And the Sunday newspaper journalist is a different breed entirely to the daily journalist.
I worked for Today from 1990-94 so I’ve seen both sides of the fence and journalists rarely cross over.
Sunday journalism requires a totally different skill set. A daily reporter is a pack animal, hunting with his rivals and moving en masse from story to story.
A Sunday reporter is a loner. Often working in a town or country totally alone, for days or weeks at a time on solitary undercover investigations or big buy-ups.
They are skilled at bringing readers the story behind the story which is what they expect on Sundays.
So by turning the Sun into a seven day operation, Murdoch must avoid doing this on the cheap and thinking he can get away by simply using Sun staff on a seven day rota.
There needs to be a pool of talented Sunday tabloid journalists to man the newspaper engine room.
And he needs to look no further than his reporters on the News of the World.
It takes years to discover and then train up a Sunday reporter and every single one of my former colleagues would be a significant asset to the Sun on Sunday.
I take this opportunity to remind Mr Murdoch that his former CEO Rebekah Brooks promised to find as many News of the World staff as possible new jobs.
He now has the opportunity to carry out that company promise and has a moral duty to do so.
I suspect high on his hit list will be the News of the World’s former investigations editor Mazher Mahmood who would be back on natural territory.
At this point, it must be said that I exclude myself from this process, for dozens of reasons!
Of course the product could be damaged by further allegations of wrongdoing at the Sun. But that potential problem isn’t going to go away for the significant future. So it’s now or never.
And for Rupert, who loves playing a winning hand when the stakes are high, it’s now.