"The Sunday Thing" - why do Sunday editions need a special name in a 24/7 news culture?

 by Martin Belam, 8 July 2011

Nobody will be surprised that News International won’t want to leave a vacancy in the Sunday tabloid market for long, but the thing I am intrigued by is the choice of name.

I love lots of things about the news industry, the brands, the history, the heritage, and the way that papers take the names of communications devices or everyday things and turn them into identities.

But why, in the 21st century, you still need a different name for a paper printed on a Sunday escapes me.

Historically, of course, there were some good reasons. With a narrow competitor set, a different name stressed that the package was special and stood-out from the average weekday fare. Working practice also meant that there was often editorial separation, and a different title allowed for separate negotiations with unions over working conditions.

And it is an old tradition. The last big national Sunday paper launches were the Mail On Sunday in 1982, and the Independent on Sunday in 1986 - a time of four television channels, and CEEFAX as the only round-the-clock news service.

But now?

We live in a twenty-four hour always on news culture.

What other vertical would launch a “new” product with a digital aspect that only worked one day a week, and which needed different URLs, apps, designs, templates and technology?

Put it this way, can you imagine having to visit sundayfacebook.com, or remembering that you had to go to “Google on Sunday” instead?


More to the point, many of the Sunday titles were completely separate businesses - the NOTW & Sun were in different hands, much the same way that the Guardian and Observer were.

Also not entirely sure that the MOS & IOS were the last big Sunday launches - just the successful ones. The Correspondent & News On Sunday were quite big deals at the time...

Interestingly, I think only one paper launched as a seven days a week operation, Today (although it did have Sunday on the Sabbath masthead, it was produced as a piece with the daily). The Sunday edition was dropped under the second owners, though.

I really, really like the idea of having a special Sunday edition of a website, or any kind of one-off or once-a-week special. It wouldn't have to be a different URL or search mechanism, simply a different look and feel, a different vibe. To visit the Guardian (for example) on a Sunday and have a different theme, layout, style, etc would be a very interesting concept.

We do now have a 24 hour always one news but that doesn't mean it has to look the same 24/7.

I'd like to see, in general, more websites experimenting with different layouts and styles, I think we've all fallen into the trap of showing the whole of a website in one format. Some variation would be nice, how many print magazines do you read the hold exactly the same format and style of every page? None.

Historically, the audience for Sunday papers has been different - there is or was a one-paper-a-week working-class market significantly larger than the daily tabloid market; so the News of the World had a peak circulation of well above 8 million, and the People of well above 6 million; whereas the Daily Mirror, which holds the all-time daily circulation record in this country, peaked in the mid-fives and only managed seven on the day of the Queen's coronation.

Sunday papers also have to do slightly different things - not very much happens news-wise on a Saturday, so there's an emphasis on making news, on presenting your own stories, that differs from the pattern in dailies; and if you're competing against other people who specialise in producing that sort of stuff on a weekly cycle, you're liable to be in trouble if you can't do it too. There's quite a record of seven-day operations being tried and pulled back from - it happened at the Telegraph in the early days of the Sunday, at the Independents and I think at the Expresses - although as money gets tighter the financial advantages are beginning to overwhelm the competitive disadvantages.

Hi Peter, interesting point about Sunday papers having to do different things because the rhythm of news is different - but couldn't you equally argue that this was true of Saturdays? Most Saturday editions now have different supplements and editorial flow and people don't seem to feel the need to change the masthead from what appeared Mon-Fri. And in the digital sphere, CNN, MSN, Yahoo! News and the Huffington Post certainly don't feel the need to ever change their masthead according to the day of the week, even though they are constrained by exactly the same news cycle..

Perhaps it's a bit of a fixture in peoples lives in much the same way that Sunday lunch while still just a lunch gets its own special edition. Sunday papers used to come with (and still do) supplements and magazines written and printed way ahead of the main paper which will sit around on the coffee table, be dipped into and read all week whereas a daily would be in the bin by the following day. I always think of the Sundays as functioning as digests for the weeks news with a bit of added value.

Hi Martin,

It's a path-dependency thing, I think. Our daily newspaper brands were largely formed at a point when there was strong social pressure against "respectable" titles publishing on the sabbath; that's no longer true, of course, but anyone launching into the market is competing against specialist titles developed for the specific circumstances of Sunday publishing - i.e. leisured readers and not much "on-diary" news - which makes seven-day working a disadvantage.

A Saturday paper does have similar circumstances of reception to a Sunday, which means that supplements and more analytical stuff in the main news section make sense. But it doesn't have the shortage of "on-diary" news, because it's reporting on the events of Friday, a normal workday. Monday papers have the news-shortage problem - you'll often hear daily reporters, even at the 24/7 Guardian, talking about something slightly offbeat as a "Sunday-for-Monday story" - but without the leisured readership or the history of a separate culture.

Big Saturday papers, incidentally, are a recent development - late-1980s, post-Wapping - and seem also to be a specifically British thing, perhaps a result of dailies published to a six day cycle. American seven-day papers do their big supplements bundles on Sundays.

If you were starting the British newspaper market from scratch today, you'd not have separate Sunday titles, but anyone attempting to publish a newspaper on Sunday in this country has to deal with the market as it exists.

The same market conditions do not, of course, obtain in broadcast or online. The long history that created a separate Sunday newspaper market isn't present - and one can't even say that a website or TV station is "constrained by exactly the same news cycle", because they're reporting on events live, rather than summarising what happened the day before.

This post has generated someone of the best human written but slightly missing the point comment spam I've ever had, including these gems:

"They made it a different color because its Sunday, means special day of the week. I think everybody in the news industry do this."

"Hi Steve
It is a good idea for a special Sunday edition.It is a good step for better tomorrow.


"A different name is a good way to market your product, I bet they sell a lot on Sundays just because they have that special name."

I'd be interested to know how many papers have started within the last 10 years and in doing so, established a different name for their sunday edition. I wonder if it this is the remnants of a previously established branding that the papers are hesitant to move away from or if special sunday edition titles are still commonly used.

I recently heard a story about a lady who would religiously cut the four corners from her sunday roast before placing it in the oven pan to roast. When questioned by her young daughter why she did this, she replied that her mother always used to do this. The little girl enquired from her grandmother why she had done this. Her grandmother replied that when her daughter was growing up, the oven pan they owned was too small to fit the entire roast into, hence forcing her to have to cut the corners off. We often find ourselves following blindly without question, especially in this fast-paced society where there are already far too many decisions to make.

Similarly 'traditions' such as the sunday edition of newspapers is not something which is demanded by society but rather something which we seek out by name or 'look and feel' purely because we have grown so accustomed to receiving a special edition on a sunday.

I personally feel that the first newspaper that is brave enough to standardise the look and feel of their editions might create an initial stir but will surely set the trend for other newspaper owners to follow suite based on what the public is exposed to and then automatically comes to expect.

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