PERSPECTIVE: Anti-subs attitude of the Times runs counter to reason

By DOMINIC MILLS, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 25 July 1997 12:00AM

Let me open this column by doing what Neil Hamilton didn’t and declare: I write a weekly column for the Daily Telegraph. Now on we go. Like most of us, I suspect, I have been thoroughly bemused by the past few months of claim and counter-claim over newspaper ABCs. But let us stand back for a moment. There are two golden rules in marketing - and they apply as much to newspapers or magazine publishing as they do to financial services, retailing or chilled foods. One, your best customers are the loyal ones.

Let me open this column by doing what Neil Hamilton didn’t and

declare: I write a weekly column for the Daily Telegraph. Now on we go.

Like most of us, I suspect, I have been thoroughly bemused by the past

few months of claim and counter-claim over newspaper ABCs. But let us

stand back for a moment. There are two golden rules in marketing - and

they apply as much to newspapers or magazine publishing as they do to

financial services, retailing or chilled foods. One, your best customers

are the loyal ones.



Two, it pays to know as much as you can about them.



Now let’s talk subscriptions: the perfect vehicle for fulfilling both

those objectives. Which brings us neatly back to ABCs because, of

course, the row is all about subs or, in short, the relative value to an

advertiser of a discounted (can there be any other type?)

subscription.



The Times says the Telegraph’s subs scheme is so deeply discounted as to

be meaningless, and the only real test is a newsstand purchase which, in

News International’s words, ’reflects the purchaser’s intention to read

it’.



At this point, one suspects, the whole of the magazine industry -

followed in short order by retailers and fmcg companies (what is

Clubcard or the Heinz strategy if not a subs drive by another name?) -

should stand up and shout a collective ’Oi!’. But let’s stick with what

I know. To anybody working in the magazine industry, the idea that

subscription sales are of less value is a no-brainer.



At the very least, a sub is a sign of commitment on the part of the

reader.



For various historical reasons, many magazines are built on

subscriptions, and the idea that subscription-based readers are less

valuable to advertisers simply doesn’t enter the equation. If you don’t

believe me, ask Terry Mansfield or Nick Coleridge whether their

advertisers penalise them for the level of subs on Good Housekeeping or

Vogue.



Newspapers, by contrast, do not have a subscriptions culture. Indeed,

you could say that until the recent introduction of such schemes, they

actually penalised loyal readers. I have had the same papers delivered

by my newsagent to my house for the past five years - a privilege for

which, bizarrely, I am penalised. Not only do I get no discount, I pay a

premium in the form of a delivery charge. Some reward for loyalty,

eh?



If this is how newspapers treat loyal readers, no wonder they can’t get

their heads around subs schemes.



Can you imagine, for example, a similar argument between Tesco and

Sainsbury’s or Unilever and Procter & Gamble about a loyalty scheme that

seeks to lock in consumers and, at the same time, build up a more

accurate picture of their lifestyles? Although they have come a long way

in their marketing, kick-started in no small way by News International,

newspapers have always appeared to inhabit a parallel universe. They may

have their own logic, but it is not one other media owners or marketers

would recognise.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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