THE Times — the new daily newspaper to be delivered to Sunday Times subscribers — is newspaper innovation at its best and boldest, writes Anton Harber in Business Day.

The Sunday Times team — led by publisher Mike Robertson and editor Mondli Makhanya — has come up with a brilliant way of harnessing international newspaper trends, while adding their own touches.

The paper will, from June, be delivered at no extra charge to those who already receive the country’s biggest weekly newspaper, about 127000 of the country’s higher-income families.

This is in keeping with the biggest growth area for newspapers globally: free newspapers, usually handed out to commuters in tube, railway and bus stations, are flourishing in the capitals of Europe, South America and elsewhere. The difference here is that it is being driven off the back of the country’s most financially successful newspaper and most powerful brand. And it is being home-delivered.

Robertson thus achieves two publisher’s dreams: a massive boost to his drive to convert Sunday Times readers to subscribers, and an immediate core of high-end readers for his new daily product.

Any editor of a new newspaper would be drooling at the prospect of starting off from such a strong base of readers who already know and like the brand. A tougher question is whether his team can pull it off.

A daily paper is a very different animal from a weekly. It runs on a different clock and requires an entirely different way of thinking and working. There is no great track record of weeklies launching dailies precisely because of this.

It is almost impossible to run two papers on different time cycles from one newsroom, as they are naturally competitors rather than collaborators.

Will the Sunday Times formula — the potent mix of light celebrity entertainment and gossip with serious national politics — work for a daily?

When Makhanya says he wants the new paper to have the DNA of the Sunday paper, can he be certain that people want the same thing with their breakfast every morning?

The Sunday Times is a huge package designed to offer something to all members of a huge range of South African families, and this is something of an anachronism in a publishing world in which markets become more and more niched and newspapers more and more tightly focused.

Can a daily paper appeal to so wide an audience?

I believe that there will have to be significant adjustments to cater for a daily market, and it will be tough for the Sunday Times team, locked in a decades-old routine, to produce a certain kind of weekend product.

They are also entering a hugely competitive market. In Johannesburg, there are already six daily newspapers, a lot for a city of this size. If it succeeds, it will hurt a number of other papers, which have vulnerabilities.

The Star has a strong base, particularly in classified advertising, but many will consider it vulnerable to losing the upper-income audience that the Times will target, while it has at the same time to face a challenge to its lower-income readers from the Daily Sun. It will be fighting a war on two fronts.

The Citizen readership has declined but it claims to be making money for the first time in its tumultuous life.

Business Day will face a challenge if the Times, like its Sunday edition, has a strong business section.

The Times’s own sister paper, the Sowetan, is also not as strong as it once was. It has started to reverse the loss of sales it experienced in recent years, but is not yet on safe ground.

Least affected will be the Daily Sun and Beeld.

In the other cities, the Times will take on papers that may be well established, but many of which have grown complacent through lack of real competition.

Journalists always celebrate a new newspaper, as it means more jobs and more choices. But there are many who believe that the large number of newspapers means that the shrinking advertising pie is cut into too many small pieces and that this impacts on the resources available for quality journalism.

That is why the most critical question is whether the Sunday Times will run this cheaply off the back of its existing newsroom, or make the kind of investment that is needed for a quality daily product.