Last summer, two weeks after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, the British regional publisher Archant launched a new weekly newspaper, The New European, aimed at the 48 percent of British voters who didn’t support Brexit.
The New European was supposed to be a “pop-up” newspaper, with a planned run of just four weeks. But the publication has developed enough of a following that Archant has decided to continue publishing through at least the end of the year, editor Matt Kelly, who is also Archant’s chief content officer, told me. And while The New European started out as a print-only publication, it’s since added a digital presence that is pulling in more than a million pageviews a month.
“The expectation when we launched was that there would be several weeks of really acute interest in this topic, and then it would wane and life would move on,” Kelly said. “That hasn’t happened.”
The paper, which sells on newsstands for £2 a copy and as a subscription at £20 for 13 weeks, has a circulation of 20,000 and a staff of five — two editors, two designers, and Kelly. Just about all of its writing comes from outside contributors; former Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote a piece for the paper last fall.
Archant is now considering launching other pop-up publications, which it’s positioned to do thanks to its existing access to a distribution system. “We couldn’t have done it if we weren’t already quite a big newspaper publisher,” Kelly said. Kelly and I discussed what’s next for The New European, the mechanics of producing a pop-up publication, and whether he thinks a similar newspaper could work in the United States. Here’s a lightly edited and condensed transcript of our conversation.
We started the whole concept because we thought there was a new model for print publishing. If you already had established distribution networks and the facilities to print a newspaper, you could quickly create a new brand, distribute it widely quite easily, and look to gain an audience that was acutely interested in this issue, whatever it was. And then, very easily, you could say, “Okay, the zeitgeist has moved on, and we’ll move onto something new.”
That was very much the expectation when we launched The New European: There would be several weeks of acute interest in this topic, and then it would wane and life would move on. That hasn’t happened. In fact, if anything, the interest has grown. We’ve never had a week where we didn’t have something fabulous to write about. That’s why we’re still publishing — it’s still interesting. People are still buying us, and we’re still a strong, relevant voice in a media landscape in the U.K. that doesn’t have a lot pro–European Union voices.
People have latched onto The New European with an unusual intensity. Obviously, people feel very strongly about this issue, and because we launched as a single-issue newspaper, we very quickly became seen as the voice for that community.
Readers are very passionate about the product. They take photographs of themselves reading it and post them on Twitter. They leave copies once they’re finished with them in doctors’ waiting rooms and bus stops for other people to read. Writers are very keen to engage with the project for a couple of reasons. One is that it’s a newspaper and the truth is that a lot of journalists and writers feel that there’s something special about print. Secondly, it’s a visible articulation of their values. If you’re associating yourself with The New European, you’re making it very clear that you’re pro-European and there’s no ambiguity about that position.
— Ramiro Morales Hojas (@RamiroHojas) February 18, 2017
— Tommy Pullen (@tommypullen) February 6, 2017
— Lilybet (@LizziejaypatLiz) February 17, 2017
The second thing, of course, is the propensity to pay. Basically, our only real revenue is subscription price. If we had launched a new website with a paywall, again, who would’ve looked at it? Who would’ve been interested?
The third element, which is interesting when we talk about the concept of pop-up publishing, is that it’s a visible demonstration of your interest. You can’t visibly demonstrate a website. You can’t carry a laptop around and show people what you’re reading, what you’re interested in. But a newspaper is a very visible demonstration of your beliefs, your passion, and what you’re interested in.
We established the brand in print, but digital has become more and more important to us in order to market it. We now have a decent website where we put up content from last week’s issue and a couple of pieces from this week’s issue and we try to generate a conversation and lots of media sharing on social. It’s working very well. The site launched just two months ago, and it’s already doing a million pageviews a month.
— Alun Edwards (@hurricaneally) February 11, 2017
The national media come in and they do it brilliantly on Day 1, they do it great on Day 2, and then 10 days later someone launches a magazine that is a souvenir of Bowie’s life. In the middle of that, there is a market, I think, for a publication that satisfies the immediate zeitgeist of interest in whatever the topic may be.
There are lots of different applications for this. The trick is not to spend a lot of money on marketing, advertising, dummies, or staff. The trick is to be able to throw out these products very quickly within your existing organization and to be very clear about when you’re going to kill them before you start. You don’t want to limp on when, really, you should kill it quickly. We’re very bad, as an industry, at killing things that are failing. Equally, in the case of The New European, if it carries on succeeding, the pop-up can pop-up much longer than anticipated.
None of this is new. If we were a digital startup, nobody would blink, but because we’re a newspaper company, it’s seen to be a great departure. There’s a lot that old legacy business can learn from how entrepreneurs think and act.