The Sun sets slowly on SundayPosted on: 28 February 2012 by Alexander Hay
As The Sun's first Sunday edition is published, it simply marks another milestone in the slow death and decay of the Murdoch empire
When things go wrong, you have only two options. The first of these, reinvention, is rooted in necessity, but is also an admission that the old way of doing things was no longer working. Of course, the only other option is to carry on as before, offering no new ideas in the interests of stability and hope the disaster that befell you won't happen again.
Rupert Murdoch, innovator that he is, has chosen to do both at the same time with yesterday's launch of the Sun on Sunday. As a reinvention, it replaces the disgraced News of the World and also makes The Sun an all-week publication for the first time since its inception. This saves money too (another admission of failure). In so doing, Murdoch seems to have retained his teflon reputation, though rumours that he rushed forward the launch of the Sunday edition so as to avoid any bad publicity at Leveson this week suggests he's simply playing damage limitation.
Or rather, he's continuing much as before despite all the evidence suggesting this is a problem. News Corporation, for example, is mainly famous for making profit out of existing platforms (such as cable TV in the grim form of Fox News), and badly mishandling new media - hiding The Times and its (relatively) quality journalism behind a paywall, for example, or mishandling MySpace, finally selling it on to, err, Justin Timberlake for a fraction of what it first paid for it back in 2006.
Indeed, a look inside The Sun's Sunday edition suggests precisely nothing has been learned. Beyond the presence of the NoTW's old Fabulous magazine, the content of the Sunday Sun remains much the same as the rest of the week. Therein lies the same combination of celebrity news, grudging skimming of national and world news that doesn't involve scandal, gleeful wallowing in actual scandal, and well-written, tautly structured editorials full of bigotry, feigned ignorance and thinly veiled promotion of the Boss's best interests.
Despite rumours of teething troubles, the real issue facing The Sun on Sunday is that it has nothing new to offer, a curious fate for a newspaper that sold itself on being bold and transgressive, even if that only really amounted to indulging readers' prejudices and putting topless women on Page 3. A column by Katie Price is hardly an exciting selling point.
Rather, and having sold over 3 million copies on its first run, it is hard to see what The Sun has to add to the Sunday market. The News of the World itself was only selling 2.7 million at the time of its closure, and the novelty factor may wear off quickly, given that other Sunday newspapers have gained circulation since the News of the World ceased publication.
While the initial sales surge is a tribute to the sheer apathy of the British public, in that they continue to buy The Sun despite the implications of criminality and general vileness, it doesn't suggest that The Sun will be as successful as the News of the World in the long term.
The Star on Sunday, for example, was launched in 2002 with a circulation over 700,000, but by June 2011, it had dropped to just above 300,000. Given the long term decline of the newspaper market, it's hard to see a future for the Sun on Sunday as anything nearly as successful as the News of the World.
Instead, it reveals the creative bankruptcy at the heart of the Murdoch empire. Whereas in the 80s, new ideas and production methods boosted newspapers and print media, nowadays most innovation takes place online or in the form of downloadable material for smart-phones and tablet computers.
Meanwhile, old habits die hard for Murdoch. Whether it's using contacts like Michael Gove to expand into education provision, pandering to the basest, racist instincts of audiences on Fox News' web site comment sections or simply sinking ever deeper into the mire as more revelations from Leveson emerge, the overall sense is one where the same old formula is continued because no one can think of anything else.
While some seem surprised that the Murdoch empire hasn't yet collapsed, a more measured reading would be that it is simply facing a period of long, slow decline. Looking at the moribund, unadventurous and risk-free Sun on Sunday, it's hard not to see News International as simply Yesterday's News.