A look back in anger over subscriptions row

Although the Telegraph last week pulled out of legal action over alleged breach of contract against the ABC, the bitterness of the whole dispute over subscriptions remains as strong as ever. Jeremy Deedes is managing director of the Telegraph

If transparency in declaring sales to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) was a move to take the sting out of the increasingly acrimonious disputes between newspapers over sales, then it was a failure.

The bleatings in competitor newspapers show that the losers are not taking it gracefully. The Daily Telegraph emerges as easily the best-selling quality daily newspaper in the country. You would not have known this reading the disingenuous blurb in Saturday’s Times.

Then last Sunday, The Sunday Times came up with – “Sunday Telegraph all time low” to describe The Sunday Telegraph’s 33.4 per cent sales increase from January to June last year.

The claim was made on the back of the figure for full cover-price sales of The Sunday Telegraph – 429,693. It conveniently forgot the ABC’s own definition which says quite clearly “average net circulation per effective publishing day” which for The Sunday Telegraph in June was 853,956.

The clear implication from the blurb-writers at The Times, as well as their pet commentator Roy Greenslade at The Guardian, is that those who subscribe to a newspaper are lesser beings than those who purchase at a newsstand. This is not only insulting to those who are prepared to pay their money in advance, but just plain wrong. Ask any maga- zine publisher.

Not only does the ABC recognise their validity by including them in the average circulation totals, but advertisers also recognise them as important because they tie in readers for a lengthy period. This allows them to establish loyalty and, if targeted correctly, will not dilute the readership profile of the publication.

We know, because we have reaped the benefits. In the six months to March 1997, when our subscription scheme was really beginning to do its work, The Daily Telegraph had an average readership of 2,840,000, an increase of 16.2 per cent on the corresponding period last year and a lead of almost 50 per cent over The Times.

Not only that, but the ABC1 readership profile remained steady at 83.6 per cent.

And if subscription sales are inferior, why do the publishers of The Times and Sunday Times so assiduously court them?

“Eight days free reading followed by three weeks at a special discounted price,” says one leaflet put out by Times Newspapers, declaring that the offer must end by July 11. In another, 50 is offered off a case of wine if The Times and Sunday Times are taken at 1 a week – but the offer must end on July 18. “Extended closing date 21 July,” says the latest pamphlet.

In the great crusade for transparency, let us all, finally, be honest about our motives as well as our figures. To set a precedent, I will declare The Telegraph’s position unequivocally. We are in favour of subscriptions for all the reasons I have already spelt out. Anyone who knows anything about the newspaper industry knows we must battle for every reader at a time when so much else competes for his or her attention.

Newspaper readership surveys ensure that advertisers are well informed as to who those readers are. But let us not, having come this far, start a new bout of fighting on the subject – especially when it is such an artless smoke screen.

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