MEDIA: Paper pricing war re-ignites

The Independent hit back at renewed newspaper cover price cutting this week by Rupert Murdoch’s News International with a bizarre promotion to give its readers a free copy of the Times.

The Independent hit back at renewed newspaper cover price cutting this

week by Rupert Murdoch’s News International with a bizarre promotion to

give its readers a free copy of the Times.



The Independent turned its back on the general marketing rule of not

giving free publicity to rivals, and flagged the promotion on its front

page mast-head with the Times emblazoned in large type.



The move follows News International’s decision to cut the price of

Monday’s Times from 30 pence to 20 pence throughout the summer at what

some industry sources say could cost more than pounds 1.5 million.



NI’s latest price cut comes 17 months after NI signalled an end to the

one year price war it started in mid-1993, by lifting the price of its

newspapers. It also coincides with the start of summer, during which

sales traditionally drop.



The Independent’s promotion was explained in a leader under the headline

‘Independent response to bully tactics’ by editor Andrew Marr. He said

that the Times’ ten pence price was ‘a fair reflection of its value,

perhaps just a touch on the high side’. He suggested that by sampling

the Times, readers would appreciate the value of the Independent.



Nick Fulligar, spokesman for Mirror Group which controls the

Independent, denied the promotion would create confusion among readers

by promoting the rival Times on the front page. He also refuted

suggestions that the Independent was aiding News International by

encouraging sampling of the Times, which is recognised as one of the key

aims of cover price cutting.



‘We are highlighting the point that if you cut your cover price you are

demonstrating that your product is worthless. This is an expensive

exercise for Murdoch and it says the paper you are buying is not worth

the money you are paying for it,’ says Fulligar.



But a straw poll showed that some Independent readers found the

promotion ‘confusing’ and ‘an elaborate joke which wasn’t really that

funny’.



The Telegraph’s MD Jeremy Deedes said he could ‘see the humour in the

idea of saying to its readers well if you must have a copy of the Times

we’ll buy it for you - knowing that 90 per cent of its readers wouldn’t

read the Times.’



He added that he would not run such a promotion on the Telegraph but

would not rule out cover price cutting on the paper and its sister

Sunday title. ‘It’s reasonable to say that we won’t just be sitting on

our hands. But you will have to watch this space on that one.’



The Telegraph sells an average of 1.03 million copies a day compared to

the Times’ 654,213. The Independent sells 276,029 copies and is the

smallest selling newspaper. Over the last six months, the Times and

Financial Times have been the only two daily broadsheets to increase

their sales, by 7.64 per cent and 3.59 per cent respectively.



Although the Independent cut its cover price in 1994, it lobbied the

Office of Fair Trading to hold a inquiry into what it argued was

predatory pricing in the industry. But the OFT ruled that price cutting

was valid commercial practice.



No one at News International was available to comment on the promotion

and the Independent has ruled out cutting its price again.



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