Any old Sunday?

The highly successful `Mail on Sunday' has been relaunched. It's certainly new, but is it improved?

The Mail newspapers have become the great exceptions. As we discuss the general decline in sales of newspapers, talk of irreversible decline, and search for reasons (young people don't read, the Internet etc), we have to qualify all such conversations with "except for the Mail and The Mail on Sunday, of course".

Why "of course"? There's no "of course" about it. It is the easiest thing in the world to hide behind a trend - if all papers are losing sales then it cannot be our fault - but it's the hardest thing in the world to buck one. The Mail's daily and Sunday newspapers consistently do just that, and have done over a long period of time.

While the Sunday Express is losing sales at a rate of 11 per cent a year (comparing the most recent six-month period with the same period a year ago), The Mail on Sunday is increasing sales at 4.8 per cent. The Express has sunk to just over one million sales; The Mail on Sunday is selling over 2.3 million copies, and rising.

It is a spectacular success, much envied by other editors, who spend their time discussing how it is done. I have always thought the Daily Mail does it better, with more conviction, but the formula, put simply, is understanding the audience with great precision, knowing, anticipating and reinforcing their preoccupations and prejudices, being confident enough not to follow the pack, ie sticking to their own news agenda, promoting hard, and employing fine journalists over a long period of time - the Mail has never been susceptible to the "clear out the old guard and hire young writers" ethos so common today.

The Mail on Sunday has just repackaged itself, more a face-lift than a new model, a few "extras" thrown in as standard. It has changed the feel and content of its magazine, Night & Day, and added a Review in the format of the newspaper. Why? Why fix it when it was manifestly working?

Generally the paper seems to have tightened up under the new editor Peter Wright, with more emphasis on news than is often the case on Sunday, and a harder political edge. It was brave to name Joe Ashton as the MP not having sex in the Northampton Thai brothel, when most other papers left out the name "for legal reasons".

The launch of former Express editor Richard Addis' new section, Review - nobody tries to think up clever titles any longer, they all use the same - has an impact on the main section. One of the attractions of The Mail on Sunday was that it offered a more consolidated package than most of its rivals - but with the new section not only Stewart Steven's column but many of the topical personality features in which the paper specialises, which provided engaging variety to the old main section, have moved out of this section and into Review. It has left the first section news-and- sport only, and presented the usual problem of the early pages of a Review section, before you get to the reviews. What makes a Review front page? The early signs are that The Mail of Sunday is going to find this as much a problem as the other papers.

So why introduce the new section? I suppose because the evidence from The Sunday Times, which has so much in common with The Mail on Sunday - each paper is probably the other's main rival, which makes it the more interesting that they are the two most successful Sunday papers of the moment - is that the public likes multi-section newspapers. But Review will have to improve.

The Mail on Sunday's financial section, which includes personal finance, is probably the best such section around, but that was there before the face-lift, as was Night & Day which, unlike Financial Mail on Sunday, has been substantially changed in this new package.

The previous Night & Day was accused of being too masculine, but then there was You magazine, the most women's magaziney of all Sunday magazines (that continues relatively unchanged). Now Night & Day, which was refreshingly different from its rivals, has taken on a glossy cover, absorbed the broadcast listings magazine Programme, now called Choice, and lost the reviews to Review, obviously. But in so doing it has made both Review and Night & Day more conventional. The old Night & Day had an original approach to book reviews in particular.

The original conception of Weekend, the Mail's outstanding Saturday TV and features magazine, was Christena Appleyard's. She later left for The Times, but is now back at the Mail and behind the Night & Day relaunch. She had a "sex and shopping" item in Weekend which included a sex questionnaire for willing celebrities with something to sell. That ran its course and was replaced by an unreadable questionnaire on moral dilemmas. But the sex item is back in the revised Night & Day as "A lay in the life of", which allows an exhibitionist non-celebrity to reminisce in a softer-than- soft porn way. It comes across as precious and rather tacky. "The lowdown" is another of those fact-box features, which seeks to provide an accessible brief on a major figure from the arts. It's a rip-off of The Guardian's Pass Notes, which was itself a rip-off of the late Sunday Correspondent's Pass Notes.

So here is the problem. When the Mail (daily or Sunday) did something new it tended to be original. This latest Mail on Sunday revamp has made the paper more conventional than it was before, more like other papers. It has produced the packages in the same shape you find elsewhere, nicked some old ideas, produced a magazine which, on the outside at least, feels like any other colour magazine - only The Mail on Sunday has already got one of those, so now it has two.

It will continue to sell because the journalism's good and the opposition is lousy. But it lacks that spark of flair and originality David English always contributed, or demanded.

Peter Cole is the former editor of the `Sunday Correspondent' and is now a professor of journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?