‘Boring and bland’ but Murdoch’s new Sun on Sunday sells three million, pulls in the ads

Job done really as Rupert Murdoch’s hastily-launched seventh-day Sun sold out in many locations yesterday and pulled in an impressive list of advertisers, not all of the from WPP’s GroupM, his biggest ally in the business of re-establishing News Corp’s UK newspaper revenues and profits.

And here’s the old boy himself (and Sun editor Dominic Mohan) with his new baby.

The paper itself consisted of a big bundle of sport (mainly football of course) surrounded by some hastily-assembled columnists (Katie Price, Toby Young, Roy Keane, Heston Blumenthal and a senior clergyman whose name eludes me) and pages of guff about celebrity TV’s Amanda Holden and her new baby.

But there was nothing to frighten the horses in these changed times when tabloid papers are under the cosh (and will be more so this week as the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics resumes), which is also what Rupert wanted.

Sales of Sunday’s new Sun will doubtless slip back as the novelty wears off and the paper will find it harder to attract big retailers and the like into its pages. Editor Mohan will doubtless try to get some real stories in there and some better columnists (this lot are doubtless on short contracts).

But just getting the paper out at such short notice is a considerable technical feat. Some important questions remain though.

Leveson-related issues aside, the key to the new paper’s fortunes and that of its competitors is surely price (cover price that is, not Ms Price, the glamour model formerly known as Jordan).

The Sun’s red top rivals, the Sunday Mirror Mirror, the People and the Daily Star Sunday, all matched its launch price of 50p but they won’t be able to afford to do this for ever. But will the Sun? Murdoch has used price before to considerable effect in his empire, battering the Daily Mirror a decade ago when that paper foolishly took the advice of consultants McKinsey and embarked on a price war.

At the other end of the market he tried the same trick with The Times against Conrad Black’s Daily Telegraph and that didn’t work although it inflicted plenty of pain on the Canadian tycoon (since jailed for other matters). It also sent The Times’s already considerable losses into free fall.

His News of the World (closed at the height of the phone hacking scandal) used to sell for £1 and make £40m a year. Can the Sun be profitable at a lower price?

Then, of course, there’s the Leveson stuff. This week we’ll start hearing from a number of past and present Metropolitan Police officers about their financial and other dealings with Murdoch’s papers, including the Sun. It’s to be hoped this line-up includes ‘tasty geezer’ Andy Hayman (pictured), a former assistant commissioner. Andy is always entertaining and was once a great mate of News Corp, signing up as a Times columnist when he left the force over an expenses disagreement.

It’s still possible that further revelations – in particular oncerning paying police officers – will hole the Sun below the water line. Ten middle-ranking journalists have been arrested so far and this particular investigation is less than a year old.

Murdoch is chairman and CEO of News Corporation and, it seems pretty clear, decided to launch the Sun on Sunday off his own bat. Even though the Murdochs own a blocking stake of News Corp voting shares it seems equally clear that he’ll be off into shareholder-induced retirement if anything even nastier emerges at or happens to the Sun.

So the old boy isn’t out of the woods yet.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.