Why newspapers must put quality content first

If you work in the marketing department of a national newspaper, having Mystic Meg on your side would be a definite advantage in the current battle to increase circulation. The difference between getting it right and getting it wrong is finely balanced, and for many the difference boils down to cover-price promotion plus added value.

The combination of a lower cover price and delivering a large chunk of sports editorial on a Monday has helped a number of papers woo readers. However, the downside has been a real imbalance in the daily rate of sales, with Mondays propping up the rest of the week.

Not surprisingly, good planners and buyers have used this data to add value to their schedules or drive a harder bargain for the days where they believe sales are less effective. The trick has also been to capitalise on those days where a stronger sales performance is emerging. Saturdays were often seen as the weak link but have now become a hot bed of marketing activity. In some cases sales are higher than those of their Sunday counterparts.

Cover price promotion is not something that is going to disappear. The latest initiatives from News International – which has lowered the price of the Saturday edition of The Sun to 20p and standardised the price of The Times at 30p during weekdays – demonstrate Rupert Murdoch’s continuing belief in cover price promotion as a highly effective marketing tool.

These moves are being closely watched by the competition and other newspapers are actively involved in various testing programmes around the country. All the evidence would point to a further cover price battle this autumn.

One of the theories being tested is whether to continue with differential cover pricing during weekdays, or adopt a consistent weekday price.

As the new football season approaches the idea of an expanded midweek second section sports round-up may be something that consumers find appealing. This would be a bold approach and would mirror what is happening already across the rest of Europe, where midweek sports sections are now in vogue.

The World Cup did newspaper circulations no harm in June, with most showing gains. For those who want to capitalise on their Monday sales, a midweek price spike plus some added value might do the job.

Clearly the industry is divided on cover price promotion. Indeed, some have decided not to enter the fray, instead offering voucher incentives or discounted subscriptions. However, in order to offset any possible negatives on pricing against the competition, papers have had to lead with much stronger reader headline promotions offering a hook each day to maintain reader loyalty.

Cover price promotion has been successful in recruiting new readers. But price alone cannot maintain loyalty, it’s also about giving readers a decent product.

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