PERSPECTIVE: Price cuts, revenge, plus spin: everyday tales of the tabloids

Circulation departments and spin doctors are working overtime to try to make sense of the latest national newspaper ABC figures, released last Friday. As ever, reports of victories and casualties are flowing into Campaign from all sides.

But at last there is sufficient unanimity to take a step back and divine some clear trends from the tabloid sector's continuing price-cutting offensives.

The Daily Mirror, the instigator of the price cuts, emerges as the biggest loser. Yet, at the outset of its ongoing strategic review it all seemed to be looking good. In a market usually characterised by gentle shifts in strategy, it took a lurch in April this year when it attempted to clarify its brand positioning, adopting a more "serious" editorial stance. The decision to abandon the red-top masthead for the group's leading national titles was backed up by a new marketing campaign: "The Daily Mirror - Think Again."

The second phase in the strategy ran counter to the aim of moving the Daily Mirror upmarket. It involved a price cut from 32p to 20p, initially nationally and latterly outside the North of England, the heartland of Mirror readership. Predictably, rivals responded instantly with price cuts of their own - The Sun is now selling at 20p, the Daily

Express also weighed in at 20p, while the Daily Star is 10p. Only the Daily Mail has avoided the fray by maintaining full prices.

So what has happened? The Daily Mirror's average net circulation per issue fell to 2,116,717 in June, a fall from 2,128,755 in May, or 0.57 per cent down month on month. The Daily Star, against an impressive year-on-year circulation growth of almost 13 per cent, was down to 627,949 from 680,040, a fall of 1.04 per cent. The Sun - which cut its price while maintaining bulks and direct mail, which the Daily Mirror has curtailed - grew 1.9 per cent month on month from 3,459,026 to 3,524,673. Clearly, to cut cover prices by such amounts, shareholders have been asked to invest heavily in the hope of stopping the sales rot, yet it would seem that overall it has not worked.

Finally, but still on the subject of tabloid spin, the Sunday Express last weekend perpetrated a laughable attack of attempted revenge on a rival. "Hundreds of call girls working in so-called massage parlours place small ads in Loot titles owned by Lord Rothermere, proprietor of Associated Newspapers, who also publish the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday ... it ranted over three pages. For some reason connected with Express Newspapers' owner, it omitted to mention that Richard Desmond's Northern & Shell titles include a litany of pornographic publications with associated lurid ads - Megaboobs, Posh Wives, Skinny and Wriggly and so on. Fair-minded readers will have to make up their own minds about whether the timing of the Sunday Express story so close to its dire ABCs is a coincidence.

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