Media: Who wins in the bargain basement?: Maggie Brown looks for first signs of success and failure in Fleet's Street's broadsheet price war

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With the first week of broadsheet price- cutting warfare well under way, everyone is trying to establish who is winning, who is getting hurt. The Times, at a bargain basement 20p, is gaining a strong circulation boost: in three days (Friday to Monday) it added an average 48,000* to its daily sale, placing it comfortably in the 550,000-560,000 range.

Advertisers, however, are less impressed: will the classic establishment Times reader feel the title has been devalued? One leading media analyst said that the paper has not been able to push up its advertising rates by more than 5 per cent, in spite of rising circulation, since the price cuts started last September. The suspicion is that the new buyers are coming from midmarket tabloids, Today, Daily Express and Daily Mail: unless the new readers are classic broadsheet ABC1s, the larger sale leaves advertisers underwhelmed.

The price-cutting impact is less marked at the 30p Daily Telegraph (whose advertising rates are between two and three times higher than the Times) because of Rupert Murdoch's instant 20p trump. But, while the Telegraph's share price has slumped, it has, at huge cost, reversed the circulation slide. The weekday paper is already edging back towards 1 million (975,000 on Monday, up 28,000) even before adjustments to its editorial mix.

The Guardian and Independent are being only marginally affected, with falls in sales in the low thousands: this demonstrates, as anecdotal impressions confirm, that they have loyal core audiences.

The impact on the middle-market tabloids, priced at 32p, may be prove greater on the Daily Express than the thriving Daily Mail. The Mail has responded to the price cuts with a mortgage contest. However, those in the nitty-gritty wholesaling side wonder whether 30p for the Mail and Express might not be a more convenient price for customers.

* All figures are estimates.

----------------------------------------------------------------- WHAT THE PAPERS COST: CHRONOLOGY OF PRICE CHANGES ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1993 12 July Sun drops its cover price from 25p to 20p 12 July Daily Mirror responds by dropping its price to 10p for one day 26 July Daily Mail increases its cover price from 30p to 32p 2 August Daily Express goes up from 30p to 32p in line with Daily Mail 16 August Today experiments by reducing its price from 25p to 20p in the Liverpool area 6 September Times drops from 45p to 30p (Monday to Friday) and 55p to 40p (Saturday) 10 October Independent on Sunday goes up from 90p to pounds 1 12 October Independent increases its price from 45p to 50p (Monday to Saturday) 1994 10 January - Sun drops its price from 20p to 10p for one day to support TV game show promotion 24 January Today drops its cover price to 10p for one day 23 June Daily Telegraph goes down from 48p to 30p (Monday to Friday) 23 June Independent is 20p for one day only 24 June Times further reduces its price from 30p to 20p (Monday to Friday) and from 40p to 30p (Saturday) -----------------------------------------------------------------