PRESS

A change of focus

Millionaire Robert Maxwell takes a gamble

MARK NICHOLS May 28 1990
PRESS

A change of focus

Millionaire Robert Maxwell takes a gamble

MARK NICHOLS May 28 1990

A change of focus

PRESS

Millionaire Robert Maxwell takes a gamble

As an ardent proponent of a unified Europe, Robert Maxwell says that he dreamed for years of launching a newspaper that would be read all over Britain and the Continent. Three years ago, the Czechoslovakian-born British millionaire made plans to publish a newspaper modelled on the Daily Mirror, the flamboyant,

Maxwell-owned English tabloid that sells three million copies daily. Initially, potential advertisers gave Maxwell’s plans a cool reception. But now, with political barriers between Eastern and Western European nations collapsing, the 66-year-old Maxwell is gambling that the time for a Europe-wide newspaper has arrived. Last week, presses in four European countries,

Britain, France, West Germany and Hungary, printed the first issue of a broadsheet Englishlanguage weekly paper called The European, which went on sale in 26 European nations.

Officials at the London-based newspaper said that customers snapped up all of the one

million copies of the newspaper. Unlike most full-sized European newspapers, which have pages crammed with type, the 64-page European ran only three or four major stories on each page, accompanied by large color photographs. The lead story in the first issue focused on a poll indicating that 60 per cent of the European residents interviewed want a single European currency. Other articles included a piece by British Conservative MP Michael Heseltine, a potential rival to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, on European unity.

The newspaper, which sells for the equivalent of about $1 on newsstands in most countries, received mixed reviews from critics. Thierry Desjardins, assistant editor at the Paris-based newspaper Le Figaro, described The European as “a good paper with a new look.” But Richard Brooks, media critic for The Observer in London, wrote that the first issue lacked “the real passion of news and controversy that any newspaper must have.”

For his part, Maxwell said that The European would go daily “as soon as the market situation permits.” Meanwhile, a spokesman for The European said that the paper is aiming at weekly sales of between 225,000 and 300,000. That is well above the current 150,000 circulation of the Paris-based International Herald-Tribune, an English-language European newspaper that was first published in 1887. Maxwell said that he was prepared to spend about $25 million during the next year to make the paper a success. If that is not enough, he added, “we will put up another” $25 million.

Armed with the vision of a newspaper that would appeal to “Europe’s opinion-formers and decision-takers,” Maxwell persuaded Ian Watson, a former deputy editor and financial journalist for the London Sunday Telegraph, to become editor. In turn, Watson, 53, recruited a multilingual staff of 50 journalists. But Maxwell said his own involvement would be more than managerial. “I am the editor-in-chief,” he told the London-based newspaper The Independent. “I am The European.”

Media observers predicted that The European would enjoy a moderate success so long as Maxwell chose to pour money into it. In addition to the Mirror Group Newspapers Ltd., which publishes seven newspapers in Britain and has interests in newspapers in East Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria, Maxwell’s holdings include business and consumer magazines and book publishers. But two of Maxwell’s ventures have foundered in recent years. Last December, the Montreal Daily News, a joint venture by Maxwell and Montreal-based Québécor Inc., closed down after 21 months. In July, 1987, Maxwell’s tabloid London Daily News died after publishing for five months. Now, said an industry specialist, the risk is that Maxwell "might find something else to play with, and then The European will be forgotten about.” Indeed, Maxwell’s reputation for hopping from one pet project to another has earned him the nickname of “the bouncing Czech.”

MARK NICHOLS

JEREMY HART

in London