`Sorry luv,' but Britain's new daily sold out just too quickly

Eddy Shah's new daily newspaper, Today, sold out before many people could get to their breakfast tables, let alone board their early morning commuter trains. The 7 o'clock morning television news announcing that Today had rolled off the presses the previous evening also said that many news agents were already sold out.

Taking my cue, I fled the house and drove at great speed to the village news agent en route to the train station.

``Sorry luv,'' the assistant said apologetically, ``but all Today papers have gone. They didn't send us nearly enough.''

Another news agent in a neighboring village had the same story about Today's debut March 4.

``They only sent us quarter of what we could have sold,'' she said.

Back into the car and a three-mile drive to the nearest town.

The story was the same.

What copies there were had all been sold by 7.30 a.m. as a stream of customers came in saying ``Today?'' with a note of doubt in their voices as they had earlier scanned racks of newspapers in vain.

Such has been the demand for Britain's first national, all-color, fully computerized newspaper, which hopes to sell a million copies within two months. The brainchild of entrepreneur Eddy Shah, Today is the country's first new national daily since 1978.

Today came on stream without the help of Fleet Street print unions, which have resisted computerization. The unions, however, did not resist Today's actual publication.

With its high-tech ability to produce a paper at a third of the cost of its Fleet Street rivals, Today promises to change the face of British newspapers.

British newspaper industry analysts like Charles Wintour, co-author of a book on the Fleet Street revolution, anticipate that the mass circulation newsaper the Daily Express, with its older readership, might be the first to fall. Rising to the challenge

Both the Express and the Daily Mail, another newspaper that could be undercut by competition from Today, showed how seriously they view the challenge. Both of them responded to Today by splashing their normally black-and-white papers with big color pictures.

The Daily Telegraph took a more lofty view with an advertisement which said: ``If you want colour in a newspaper read the text.''

Reader reaction to Today has been generally favorable, although, because of some gremlins, the color quality was not up to the standard expected.

Many readers found it more serious than they anticipated, and there are some indications already of a shift in reader loyalties from older papers to Today.

The Fleet Street professionals, however, faulted Today for its news priorities. The paper led with an exclusive story -- ``Second Spy within GCHQ'' (the government's top communications center). But the major stories of the day -- the violent 24-hour Protestant strike in Northern Ireland and the end of lightning strikes by teachers -- were put inside.

Now that reader curiosity over what Today looks like has been fulfilled, the public is eager to know how the content will differ from other national newspapers.

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