Newspaper sales – a way forward?

I read an intriguing article in today’s Media Guardian about a London scheme for selling more newspapers. News International has started offering top-up publications alongside subscriptions for some of its own stable – the Times and Sunday Times.  The free delivery scheme actually started last July but has now been expanded to include non-NI publications such as Grazia, the Radio Times, the Economist and NI’s tabloids (the Sun and News of the World).

At present, the scheme is only available within the M25, but it could serve as a useful model across the UK for boosting newspaper sales, which have been in decline for a long time. Despite being a journalist, I rarely buy newspapers any more. I purchased the Guardian twice last week as I was out of the house both days, but being on the move is the only time I buy a physical copy unless I have had something published in the press. Otherwise I do what so many others do these days – I read the papers online, for free.

I have little incentive to buy a paper when my nearest newsagent is a good 8 minutes walk away but my PC is in my front room. But I do buy a lot of magazines and my local newsagents stock a very limited selection of titles, so I usually have to head into Manchester city centre to buy the mags I want. And I’ve just purchased a year’s subscription to the Radio Times because I struggle to find even that locally.

The beauty of the NI scheme, apart from free delivery, is you don’t need to spend masses of cash in advance on a lengthy subscription. You can buy what you want, for as long as you want, and top it up to suit. You can change your order the night before and you can do it all online. Just as well, when it’s increasingly difficult to find a newsagent that will deliver.

Rolling out this kind of option further afield and offering more magazines alongside could be a winner when it comes to encouraging readers to return to a paper. I know that such a scheme within the boundaries of the M60 and offering a good selection of magazines alongside would certainly get my vote – and my cash. I’d love to hear the sound of my favourite paper and magazines gently plopping onto my doormat at 7am, ready to be pored over with my breakfast cuppa.

News International has failed to convince me so far that paywalls on its newspaper websites are the answer. I’ll simply stop dipping into the News of the World for a free skim of the celebrity gossip once I have to pay. But this plan, which seems to be doing well so far or why else increase the range of magazines you can buy alongside the Times, could just do the trick in helping up sales of print editions. No doubt NI is already planning its next move for this scheme. I for one will be keeping a keen eye on its development.

12 thoughts on “Newspaper sales – a way forward?”

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  2. I must admit when I first read this I thought of that old (yes,crap) joke of a competition where the first prize is a week in (insert place of choice) while the second prize is two weeks. If people don’t want to buy newspapers, giving them even more of them would seem even less appealing. After all the demise isn’t due to cover price-sensitivity, that much has been proved over and over.

    But I’ve since put a (bit) more reasonable head on.
    Like you I’ve not encountered this scheme – the only give-aways we seem to get in the north are of a tooth rotting variety.

    Out of this, the most interesting fact to me is that publications from ‘competing’ stables can be included in the scheme.An interesting idea out of the usual silo mentality – could this be giving us a hint as to what might be about to lurk behind those Murdoch paywalls?

    Did I just hear the sound of scraping? and I don’t mean barrels……..

  3. From what I understood, the additional publications you can get delivered with the Times are not free – you still have to pay for them. You just get them delivered at no cost, saving a trip to the newsagent to pick them. It’s anyone’s guess what Murdoch is planning but this scheme appeals to me. In a world where you can buy anything over the internet and have it delivered to your door – groceries, books, clothes, CDs, furniture – why not your paper of choice plus the mags you read regularly? And given the almost universal opposition to Murdoch’s proposed paywall, could this be a way for him to step back from it?

  4. Joanna Geary

    I am going to confess a terrible secret. For the past four mornings I have browsed a beaten-up copy of OK magazine while eating my breakfast. I picked it up last weekend after it was left behind on the train by the woman sitting opposite me.

    I’m reading it because it’s something to read in the morning, not because I’m enjoying it that much. At that very specific time of day I don’t want a screen because I know I’ll just start checking emails and feeds and I’ll be late for work.

    I’ve often thought it would be good for me to put my predisposition to read at breakfast to good use. If if made me smarter and more informed, I would even consider paying for it! Early delivery (if I didn’t live on a boat) would suit me down to the ground in that case.

    Sarah: I’m surprised at how dismissive you’re being about the printed format!

    Yes, as we have more platforms on which to deliver news, it is inevitable that, with all its limitations, print will not be the best way to consume news in many situations.

    However, that doesn’t mean it’s utterly obsolete (yet). There are times when print still works extremely well.

    I guess it’s in the interests of news organisations to deliver content on a platform that suits the consumer at that particular moment in their day.

    Under these circumstances, early print deliveries seem to make sense.

  5. I’m most interested to know how the deliveries are being made. Are they going the traditional route of hiring schoolkids? If so, they’ll be coming up against exactly the same issue newsagents and those local newspapers which already have their own distribution network set up do – a lot of parents just aren’t willing to let their kids out on the streets alone anymore, and most kids’ pocketmoney now means they don’t feel the need to take on poorly paid rounds any more.

    Ironically, those locals/regionals which set up these networks were even more badly hit when they were forced to shift to morning publication – but were and are still delivering their papers to a sizeable chunk of their customers at 5pm.

    But back to NI – surely the cost of paying adults a reasonable rate to do this would make it too expensive an exercise?

  6. I’d love to know this too. I can’t get a paper delivered in south Manchester as none of the half-dozen newsagents in my area (all at least 8 mins away on foot, some more like 10) don’t do paper rounds any more. I’m willing to bet it’s because a) it’s poorly paid and kids get more generous pocket money now than I was a child and b) because parents are more protective now.

    NI is guaranteeing delivery by 7am, within the M25. It must be by van. And presumably it’s financially feasible if they are expanding the publication choice.

    If anyone from NI is reading this and knows how it’s done, do share!

  7. I’ll tell you what will get me excited — a subscription that will deliver my favourite magazines to an address I can change at any time online and at a time that I can specify any time online, and which also enables me to access the content on any platform I choose: print, PC, gadgets… I do realise it is just a beautiful dream.

  8. Joanna Geary

    I believe it is vans, but I don’t know much more than that I’m afraid.

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  10. I do think this is missing the point a bit – I can get some magazines I don’t want with a newspaper I’ll buy from time to time. Don’t thinks so – now if they added something like .net mag into the mix (displaying my geek tendencies there a bit).

    @Dilyan why is that a pipe dream – if I can get it on my Kindle/Mac Tablet/Blackberry 24 hours and benefit from the intelligence that way as well as getting a print edition which I could pick up from any outlet (via my subscription, in the way you can top up your mobile just about anwywhere) then I’d be pretty impressed and go for it.

    @Jo would be a good idea to survey, and doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

    But again – this is London centric, what about the rest of the UK. London buyers will not save the world.

  11. Glyn, you raise some good points. Adding more mags into the mix, which NI seems to be doing now, is one way to improve the offer – the bigger the selection the better the take-up rate will be. Likewise, allowing people to collect their subscription print issue physically from any shop adds more flexibility.

    I do wonder if it will ever be rolled out beyond London. I can see it working in other urban conglomerations – Manchester, Brum, Leeds, Glasgow, for example – but it would be a lot harder to make it work in smaller towns or rural areas.

    It’s a start, though.

    It’s just one result of some creative thinking. Come up with some more ideas for bringing back paying readers that don’t involve paywalls and papers may find new business models with which to survive.

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