What a messy little business these newspaper price wars are, if
only because they’ve served to expose the rampant hypocrisy that is
clearly bubbling away beneath the surface of the nation’s newspaper
First, the House of Lords backed an amendment to the Competition Bill
that could outlaw a newspaper abusing its market position by
undercutting rivals. This - aimed directly at Rupert Murdoch’s
newspapers - drew much support from the Times’ s competitors.
Take the Guardian, for example, which bleated that if the Independent
were to close, consumer choice would diminish and prices could,
ultimately, rise. Could this be the same Guardian newspaper (which is,
incidentally, still my daily newspaper of choice) that is now targeting
Independent readers with a raft of price offers and coupons for the
Guardian and its sister Sunday title, the Observer?
Of course. But who could really blame any publisher for using all its
armoury to fight for market share? It’s a tough old world out there and,
like it or not, this is a free market, with all the attendant benefits
Yes, the Guardian is guilty of hypocrisy, but is this really any more
hypocritical than the Independent which, admittedly a few incarnations
ago, chose to launch a Sunday paper to put the old Sunday Correspondent
out of business? More worrying is the way each newspaper has used its
own editorial to forward its self-serving views, which is, at best,
distasteful and, at worst, damaging to the papers’ editorial
But scrape away the hypocrisy and the question remains - are people
reading the Times because it’s cheap and not reading the Independent
because it’s more expensive? I can’t believe this is the case. For all
its good points (and there are still some), the Independent has not
(lately) found a formula which enough readers want to buy into at any
price, and its sickly health dates back to before the Times slashed its
price. Why should the Independent be protected and cosseted from the
sort of competitive market forces that dominate most other product
The Guardian itself is a prime example of quality seeing off competitive
pricing tactics. The paper has, to date, undertaken no price cutting of
any note, and its advertising and promotion has been low-key, but the
paper has thrived because of the calibre of its editorial and won
plaudits for doing so. Then there’s the Telegraph. It, rather than the
Times, is still the dominant paper in the market and, while the Times
has it in its sights, its readers are not deserting the paper in droves
for the sake of a few more pence in their pockets.
Would any advertisers or agencies mourn the Independent? I doubt it.
But you can bet a few are looking forward to greater coverage for their
ads in the Guardian following this new promotion.