Stephen Glover: Desmond's low-price Star piles pressure on paralysed Mirror

Readers of this column may not be very familiar with the Daily Star. They may even be unaware of it. The paper is nonetheless read by more of our fellow countrymen than The Times.

It has also recently enjoyed an extraordinary rise in circulation. While the sales of virtually every other newspaper follow what looks like an unstoppable downward path, the Daily Star soars upward. In the year to June it increased its circulation by nearly 19 per cent to 870,457 copies a day. This is an amazing achievement. So far as I am aware, it has very little to do with its "tit 'n' bum count," but a great deal to do with price cutting.

Last November the paper's publisher, Richard Desmond, reduced its cover price from 35p to 20p. It began to put on sales. In May The Sun – which for most of its life has scarcely deigned to notice its more salacious rival – reduced its cover price from 30p to 20p in London, and last Monday did the same in the north of England, a Daily Star stronghold. So far it has made very modest circulation gains, and its sales hover around three million copies a day.

The biggest victim of the Daily Star's price cutting has been the Daily Mirror, which lost nearly 10 per cent of its sales in the year to June to 1,330,301 copies. As recently as 2002 the Mirror sold over two million copies a day; in 1995 its daily sales were two and a half million. No other national title has lost circulation so precipitately as the Mirror has in recent years.

One can easily produce an argument to do with the shrinking Labour-voting working class to explain the Mirror's amazing descent. But actually almost nothing about the decline of newspapers is inevitable. The Daily Star's readership is almost entirely working class, and yet its sales are shooting up. It is possible to carve a larger slice of a diminishing cake, and that is exactly what Mr Desmond is doing. Of course, the price cut is costing him heavily, but if he ends up with a significantly larger market share it will be money well spent.

The Mirror's immediate problem is not so much ineluctable decline as its high cover price of 45p in what is the most price-sensitive sector of the market. The paper's owners, Trinity Mirror, have terrible problems with its large stable of regional newspapers, and earlier in the year its share price almost literally fell through the floor. The company's shell-shocked and uninspired management evidently feels it cannot afford to join Desmond's price war.

The trouble is that, if it continues to stand aside, the sales of the Mirror will undoubtedly go on falling. The point may not be far distant when it will be too weak to turn around. And yet it is by any reasonable measure a much better newspaper than the Daily Star, with an editor in Richard Wallace who is respected by many. Greater flair and seriousness of intent mean little or nothing if your rival – or rivals, if we include The Sun – are selling for less than half your price.

Whatever we may think of him, Richard Desmond is a formidable publisher. I am sure he dreams of the day when The Sun and the Daily Star share the bottom end of the market. As things stand, I would not bet on a timid and paralysed Trinity Mirror being able to stop him.

Give non-politicians a chance to earn some 'chicken feed'

How convenient it must be for leading politicians to be able to dash off a weekly newspaper column for a large fee.

Michael Gove, the Shadow schools secretary, has admitted he spent "an hour or so" writing his weekly column for The Times, for which he is paid £1,250 a pop.

Last week, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, described the £250,000 a year he receives for writing a column for the Daily Telegraph as "chicken feed". Taking holidays into account, that works out at significantly more than £5,000 per column. Fortunately, it takes virtually no time at all, according to Boris. He says: "I happen to write extremely fast. I don't see why on a Sunday morning I shouldn't knock off an article."

I have always thought that major politicians should generally be discouraged from writing regular columns since they are liable to produce self-serving party propaganda. This country's two leading politicians-cum-columnists have provided a further reason for being wary of their activities. Neither of them really tries.

The BBC's web content makes online charging seem ridiculous

Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times, has predicted that "almost all" news organisations will be charging for online content within a year. Rupert Murdoch suggested in May that his British newspapers will start charging within 12 months. It is thought that the New York Times may do so in a few weeks.

I hope Mr Barber is right. It is obviously crazy to give away newspapers free on the net while charging someone who bothers to pop down to the corner shop. They are literally impoverishing themselves. Mr Barber seems to envisage a system, already employed by his newspaper, whereby readers would continue to have free online access to some articles, but would be charged for reading the more interesting stuff.

Would it work? The problem he does not consider is the BBC website. This provides only limited competition to FT.com, which supplies specialist financial information and commentary not freely available elsewhere. But the BBC's increasingly ramifying website, which now includes blogs offering analysis and commentary, competes directly with mainstream newspapers that do not offer "must have" financial articles.

I find it difficult to see how most titles can successfully apply even a modest charge as long as the BBC offers so much content online free of charge. In effect, the publicly-funded broadcaster is pointing a dagger at the heart of the free Press. If this sounds like special pleading, I cheerfully own up to being guilty.

The BBC was not set up to produce a newspaper, which is what the BBC website is, in an online form. Without Parliament having had any say, the Corporation has become a major competitor to newspapers in their own medium. The next government must review this covert extension of BBC power. If the BBC website were entirely audio-visual, newspapers would not be forced to compete with the publicly-subsidized written word.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Database Executive - Leading Events Marketing Company - London

£23000 - £25000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Databas...

Recruitment Genius: Publishing Assistant

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Digital Account Exec ...

Guru Careers: Print Project Manager

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: A Print Project Manager is needed to join one...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before