A 'basic misunderstanding'
When "Weekend Edition" made its debut last September, detractors were plenty. The National Journal's William Powers called it a "disaster," "horribly wrong" and "one of the most spectacular belly-flops in modern media history." Almost a year later, Mr. Powers was kind enough to write that it's "not truly scary or disastrous"; it's just based on a "basic misunderstanding of how people think about their weekends."
Journal executives say they cherish weekends as much as anyone else -- and marketers do too. Of some 950 advertisers that have used the "Weekend Edition," they say, about 570 of them are entirely new to the Journal. What's better, many have expanded their buys beyond Saturdays, producing $20 million in incremental revenue for Monday through Friday during the first half of this year.
But plenty of back-and-forth, questions and critiques remain. Steven N. Barlow, senior publishing and advertising analyst, Prudential Equity Group, said in an e-mail exchange that some of those Saturday advertisers don't have much impact. "The company talks about 900 ... advertisers, but some are car dealers or boatyards in the classified sections, so we question the number of more legitimate big advertisers," he said.
Many also say there are two kinds of Journal readers: one who breathes business and another who's allergic to the topic on weekends. The Journal said its research shows nine out of 10 readers read "Weekend Edition," but based on personal experience, Mr. Barlow, for one, remained skeptical.
Defending their readers
Journal execs defend their strategy by defending their readers. "Some of the comments about 'Weekend Edition' in particular underestimated how much Journal readers enjoy reading the newspaper," said L. Gordon Crovitz, exec VP, Dow Jones. "They do not view the newspaper as work; they view it as a great read."
And new advertisers have definitely come along. Home Depot is one big-time marketer that entered the Journal in force only once "Weekend Edition" was available. "We were really excited about it because we are always looking to own weekends," said Christi Korzekwa, director of media, Home Depot.
Andrew Swinand, president and chief client officer, Starcom USA, said he "actually" enjoys the "Weekend Edition" and that his wife reads his copy. "Sad to say, for many executives the weekend is physical time away from the office, but mentally it takes more than two days to disconnect," he said. "Like still keeping a foot in the door so you can hit the ground running on Monday."
Continuing the edition's development, the Journal is moving Peggy Noonan's column to Saturday's "Pursuits" section next month; it has also added a "Remembrances" column, the Journal's first regular obituary coverage. A Q&A feature on wine will launch next month.
Two years until in the black
Mr. Crovitz said the "Weekend Edition" is on track to enter the black within a couple of years of its launch. "There's a modest level of investment, but it's already clear to us that this is going to be a very significant contributor to the financial performance of the Journal," he said.
More weekend warring lies ahead before analysts and others fully accept the company line. "Significant?" said Mr. Barlow, the analyst. "Too strong a word, especially if it is going to take a couple of years to be in the black."
But results so far suggest the Journal has time to try and prove him wrong.