September 10th, 2007
Newspaper companies around the world are anxiously contemplating their futures. That hasn’t stopped some publishers from creating new titles. Here in Singapore, Viscion Media, which is less than a year old, has just launched 6YardBox, a weekly football newspaper. Journalism.sg speaks to its editor, Scott Birch.
JOURNALISM.SG: Since Viscion debuted with the launch of Lexean at the start of the year, it’s been announcing new publications at a breathtaking rate. Could you bring us up to speed on Viscion’s stable?
SCOTT BIRCH: Lexean is Viscionâ€™s flagship title and is for the thinking man. We describe it as a mix of The Economist and GQ. At the moment the title is bimonthly but in January we will be taking it monthly. Based on reader feedback, they are interested in receiving the magazine on a monthly basis. From an editorial standpoint, it will allow us to continue giving insightful commentary on more current issues.
The other titles we have on newsstands include BeautyBlackBook, a beauty guide for women, and Project Smitten, a womenâ€™s shopping guide, more commonly referred to as smitten. Both of these are monthly titles and have just been launched. 6YardBox is Singaporeâ€™s first weekly football newspaper, which offers weekly in-depth previews of the major European footall matches with additional coverage on other sports as well.
We also have an online discount magazine subscription site (www.yourmamashop.com) which offers up to 70% savings on mainstream and niche US titles. There are many other exciting projects in the pipeline, including a womenâ€™s newspaper, which may well be the worldâ€™s first. We also have plans to release another significant title which, if all goes to plan, will be making even bigger headlines in Singapore and even the world.
JS: The country’s biggest publisher, Singapore Press Holdings, has been working hard to convince investors that it has a post-print strategy. Yet, here you guys are, boldly venturing into print. What’s going on here?
SB: I canâ€™t talk about SPHâ€™s strategy or lack of it, but Viscion believes there is a future for print and that there are gaps here in the Singapore market. Itâ€™s also important to remember that we are Viscion Media Group and do not restrict ourselves to publishing.
So many titles here are launching with similar content, similar target audience and similar advertisers. We do things differently and are shaking up the market. I can just mention that we have big plans to roll out online versions of all of our content by the end of this year but cannot elaborate further.
JS: Let’s talk about 6YardBox. It’s a 16-page broadsheet sold at $1. The emphasis is obviously on match previews, since it comes out on Saturday before the weekend games. But what I find most interesting is that it’s got none of the gimmicks that some others have descended to, like spreads on the sexiest managers or footballers’ wives, or betting guides for that matter. It seems like it’s edited with the purist football fan in mind. Have I got the formula right?
SB: 6YardBox is a paper of two halfs. The first section is devoted entirely to the English Premier League. The second section, called 6Extra, is devoted to European football, world football and other sports.
In terms of our target audience and editorial stance, I wouldnâ€™t say we are aiming at the purists, just football fans who want something better than the dross they are fed by other players in the local market. The coverage is extensive in other publications, for sure, but a lot of it is pointless features or gossip.
Typically, what you find in the other papers is post game information or player profiles that can already be found on the net. The value proposition on this type of information is low and oftentimes the writing style is catered to the lowest common denominator rather than the football enthusiast.
What we try to do with 6YardBox is provide the readers with detailed analysis and match stats, the latest player news for all the games that we cover and some intelligent features. What the reader should take away from it is a better understanding of the weekâ€™s upcoming fixtures, who is likely to win and why that is the case. They should also have a few talking points and interesting facts to share with their friends.
We are a paper for punters, purists and for armchair pundits. JS: The news vendor I bought my copy from said he’d sold three copies in a week, out of a stock of 50. How have sales been, and what are your targets?
SB: Just as we have to entice new readers by changing their habits, so we also have to educate vendors. Because we are a weekly broadsheet, in some outlets Iâ€™ve seen 6YardBox stacked underneath other papers. Obviously we need visibility for readers to give us a try. 6YardBox looks nothing like other sports publications, due to its broadsheet format and feel, so itâ€™s going to take some time for people to get used to us.
Sales and reader feedback have been very encouraging so far and our short-term target is to sell 50,000 copies. In order to generate increased awareness, we will be embarking on a cross platform marketing campaign where 6YardBox will be advertised in other magazines, leaflets at local football games, various venues, and our own events.
JS: Personally, I love the look and feel of a good newspaper. But, you’re asking EPL fans to pay a dollar a pop, when they can get the very best football writing in the world for free on the British papers’ websites. Does this sound presumptuous, or am I missing something?
SB: There will always be people who will get their football news from websites rather than print, and vice versa. Our research suggests that there are also people out there who want both â€“ they will still check the last-minute player news on the internet and check live scores there too, but they also like the tangible quality of a newspaper and the fact in some respects a paper is more user-friendly. Gradually, the paper will also be expanding in size to incorporate other relevant topics and stories on football.
6YardBox is for reading in the coffee-shop over lunch or picking your predictions in Singapore Pools. And at just 20 cents more, you donâ€™t need to put up with the trashy tabloids.
JS: Journalism.sg’s readers include present and future journalists. They’d want me to ask you: are you hiring?
Of course we are. Viscion is always on the lookout for quality people. I say people rather than journalists deliberately. Although Viscion has a reputation for hiring the best journalists in the market, we also hire great minds or talented people from other fields. This is all part of the Viscion philosophy, not to reinvent the wheel, just to make the car run smoother.
â€“ Cherian George, who interviewed Scott Birch for Journalism.sg, has been an occasional contributor to 6Yardbox‘s sister publication, Lexean, as well as to SPH publications.