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
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.