Once a feature only of weekend papers, free DVDs were on offer with the Daily Mail every day last week. It will be offering the same again all next week. To some extent, everyone is at it. From classic TV sitcoms to Hollywood blockbusters via music from rock giants such as Oasis, a high-quality DVD is now virtually a standard add-on.
A senior newspaper executive is worried that the giveaway is sometimes reaching ludicrous proportions. He has calculated that during one late spring weekend, a total of 20 million discs were given away across Fleet Street. And when everyone does it, no one wins. "As you can imagine, it simply has a neutralising effect."
Yet a good DVD has the power to pull the punters in. The Times's giveaway of The African Queen saw the paper rewarded with more than a million customers - its highest full-price sale ever. An industry insider has suggested that 50,000 of the new customers look as if they will stick with the paper.
"Free" DVDs are wildly expensive, however. The old-fashioned CD giveaway typically cost a newspaper around 18-20p per disc. A DVD is more costly: around 30p per disc - a scarily high proportion of a Saturday or Sunday paper's £1-or-so cover price.
"The cost of pressing a DVD is coming down rapidly. But the film industry is not stupid - and the cost of licensing is going through the roof," said an executive in a position to know. Where once a newspaper could pick up the rights to a film for £50,000, now it might find itself being asked for five times that amount - "and that can be even for a reasonably indifferent movie."
But is a free DVD a wise investment? It is estimated by rivals that the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday between them spend around £80m annually on their promotions, of which DVDs (and to a lesser extent CDs) claim a large chunk. It is estimated that recent DVD giveaways at the group have put on between 7 and 16 per cent of sales. But how many of those stick around for the (rare) weeks when there are no giveaways?
"You only retain the new readers if your base sale is rising anyway. If you are going down, you get a temporary spike that day and then go back to your downward trend," claimed one circulation manager. True or not, the DVD is here to stay. For now. The executive added: "We are no different from the monthly magazine market now. If you go to WH Smith's and look at the women's mags, you'll see sarongs, silk scarves, sunglasses and flip-flops on their covers. Everyone's at it. We just started a bit later than they did."Reuse content