MEDIA: PERSPECTIVE; Wise media types will take a tip from Scottish price war

At first glance, there’s something rather absurd about the Sunday Times Scotland’s attempts to strongarm newsagents to sell the paper on Mondays (Campaign, last week).

At first glance, there’s something rather absurd about the Sunday Times

Scotland’s attempts to strongarm newsagents to sell the paper on Mondays

(Campaign, last week).



After all, you think, why stop there? Why not get them to keep it on

display on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays too? Better still, why not

abandon what is clearly an artificial and outmoded concept - day of

publication - and publish on Saturday afternoon?



Of course, the absurdity doesn’t stop there. How will a Monday sale of

the Sunday Times Scotland affect sales of the Times? And what is a

Sunday Times reader who lives just south of the border to make of the

fact that their Sunday Times costs pounds 1, but 25p if they buy it from

the next newsagent to the north? More pertinently, perhaps, how is the

Audit Bureau of Circulations to treat such sales? Can you genuinely

include a Monday sale in your ABC, but not a Tuesday one? Or, like bulk

deals, do you have to report them separately?



In a way, all this is patently ridiculous, except that it illustrates

the ferocity of what is becoming an all-out regional press war north of

the border. And, in the context of all the current takeover and

consolidation activity in the regional press, it becomes rather more

interesting.



The tendency among the London meejah chattering classes and meejah

buyers is to dismiss the regional press as yesterday’s thing, a sunset

business in steady decline. To prove their point, they direct you to the

regular and continuing fall in sales of regional papers. Indeed, they

ask, why else would Thomson, Emap and Pearson want to get out of

regional papers?



This would be valid, were one to look at the regional press in those

terms. But that is a bit like looking through the wrong end of a

telescope. Rather than defining them as traditional newspaper companies

(in other words, as gatherers and distributors of local news), it would

be more helpful to think of the successful and expansionist companies -

Trinity, Johnston and Newsquest are three that spring to mind - as gate-

keepers controlling access to local markets through the gathering and

control of regional or local consumer data, which are then made

available to advertisers. In this case it happens to be the plum

Scottish markets, but the same can be said to apply to any of the

regions.



Look closely and we can already see the same patterns elsewhere as,

following changes in regulations, regional publishers are allowed to dip

their toes into local radio and cable TV. And look at Mirror Group

Newspapers’ city-by-city roll-out of Live TV. Indeed, when it comes to

the compilation and exploitation of databases - reader holidays, for

example - some local newspapers are far more advanced than the

nationals.



Of course, none of this is trendy and sexy compared with digital

broadcasting, but then sometimes trendy isn’t where the real action is.



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