The Daily Mail is the latest in a line of national newspapers to unveil a subscription service.
The launch, which offers readers a saving of about 25%, signals a shift in strategy for the newspaper away from gimmicks, such as DVD giveaways, which create only spikes in sales rather than developing reader loyalty.
A major criticism of subscription services is that publishers risk cannibalising those readers paying the full cover price regularly. When The Daily Telegraph launched its subscription service in 1996, it suffered a dip in revenue as that happened.
Marc Sands, marketing director at The Guardian, which launched its subscription service at the beginning of this year, says this is a risk his paper was willing to take. ‘In some cases that may happen, but the majority of people who say they buy the paper everyday, in reality, don't,' he says.
The Daily Mail has decided to target only non-readers and infrequent readers with its service. It will run in-store promotions that offer consumers the chance to swap the paper they were going to buy for the Daily Mail at a reduced price. A field-sales team will work with retailers to target consumers who regularly buy other newspapers or occasionally buy the Daily Mail and offer them a subscription deal.
‘Some might see this as a ‘dirty tricks' campaign, but others will see it as a way to increase readership,' says Clare Rush, head of press at media agency Mediaedge:cia. ‘To drive circulation the newspaper needs to look outside its readership. Testing a subscription that is by invitation only could work well.'
Another risk is that loyal readers may feel aggrieved by the discounts enjoyed by new readers. Neil Jagger, circulation director at Mail Newspapers, says the paper is deliberately keeping the launch of the scheme relatively low-key. ‘The chances of loyal readers being aware of this are pretty slim, but we are looking at how to reward loyalty,' he adds.
The Daily Express is the title most likely to be affected by the strategy. The reader profile of the mid-market tabloid is broadly similar to that of the Daily Mail and those consumers could be more likely to accept a ‘swap'.
Long-term strategy needed
Newspaper circulation figures are facing a long-term drop. With ad revenues falling 12% year on year, according to the Advertising Association, the press needs to adapt. Jagger says The Daily Telegraph and The Times have shown subscription services cannot reverse this trend alone, but he thinks the strategy will work as part of a wider move toward loyalty.
Will Aves, press director at ZenithOptimedia, says newspaper circulation figures reached a peak 12 years ago. ‘Readership will not get back to that level, but it is almost as if figures are getting back to their natural level,' he adds. ‘If you look back 40 years
the figures are similar to what they are now.'
When The Daily Telegraph first launched its subscription service, it was criticised for trying to muddy circulation figures. ABC certificates were made more detailed as a result. With subscriptions, newspapers have a guaranteed audience and this is good news for advertisers as they can offer a more detailed readership profile.
Whether subscriptions will raise circulation significantly, however, is another matter. The Daily Mail might be able to attract some new readers, but only time will tell whether this works better than tying in existing readers.
One thing the Telegraph model has proved is that a long-term strategy is key to keeping readers buying papers.