Same old tune: why you can bank on the giveaway effect

Good stories are all very well, but they can't match the impact of a free CD on the front of a paper

I was looking for a CD in the glovebox of the car. I hadn't been there for a bit, hadn't realised how many of the flimsy ones in thin card covers I had put in: four volumes of Solid Gold, plenty of Greatest Love Songs, not to mention Love Legends. There were Twenty Number Ones and Freewheeling. And there was Dead Cool. What a selection of retro classics. Is it conceivable that I would ever again listen to Lulu singing "Shout!" or Nena "99 Red Balloons"? I remembered then that this was the A-list - the free CDs I had decided to keep, or at least put in the car.

I was looking for a CD in the glovebox of the car. I hadn't been there for a bit, hadn't realised how many of the flimsy ones in thin card covers I had put in: four volumes of Solid Gold, plenty of Greatest Love Songs, not to mention Love Legends. There were Twenty Number Ones and Freewheeling. And there was Dead Cool. What a selection of retro classics. Is it conceivable that I would ever again listen to Lulu singing "Shout!" or Nena "99 Red Balloons"? I remembered then that this was the A-list - the free CDs I had decided to keep, or at least put in the car.

As it turns out, all the CDs from my glovebox came free with the Daily Mail, except Dead Cool of course, which was provided by The Independent. But they could have come from any number of newspapers. These days they are a crucial promotional tool, and you will not find marketing and circulation departments treating the topic with other than the utmost seriousness.

Journalists like to think that the one thing guaranteed to increase the sale of their newspaper is a stonking news story. But in this far from perfect world other factors may be just as important, or more so. We know now that size matters in the quality market. And across the market the added value of the special offer, or bolt-on, can have an effect on sales far greater than the big story.

In the marketing and circulation departments the focus is elsewhere, the language different. Here they are talking about uplift - in this case a rise in sale attributable to a marketing ploy; about cover-mounts - a free gift attached to the front of the paper; and about retention - the amount of added sale from the free CD that remains the following week when there is no CD. In some cases they talk about dependency. This is far too stark for any journalist to take, suggesting as it does that sale is dependent on the existence of the CD, not the quality of the editorial matter.

This is the underlying purpose of providing these gifts to readers. Publishers and editors care obsessively about the sale of the paper and see it as the measure of success. Circulation figures are published monthly, so any exceptionally high figure on a particular day will benefit the monthly average sale. Publishers will use the CD to maintain sales in a difficult period, to maintain a sales gap with a rival title, or to encourage sampling of a title by those who would not normally buy it, in the hope that some of them will stay.

Daily papers will use the add-on on a Saturday, the day of greatest sale, where the percentage uplift will translate into the largest number of copies. Sunday newspapers are particularly keen on the add-ons because, quite simply, they have only 52 shots a year and the impact of a bad day for sales is that much greater than in the daily market.

CDs free with newspapers have been around for about five years. The Independent remembers that Saturday in 2000 when it gave away a CD of Oasis tracks, and experienced an uplift of 35 per cent. That is not normal, but Oasis was the big band of the time and free CDs were new. The CD remains an effective marketing device today, although it is likely to be replaced by the DVD soon. The Sunday Times already produces a regular DVD, The Month, covering the arts. Most CDs are quasi-thematic compilations, raiding the back catalogues of the record companies.

The impact of the CD add-on can vary a lot, but the industry will expect the newspaper carrying the free CD to put 10 to 15 per cent on sale. For two million-plus seller such as the Saturday Daily Mail , which makes extensive use of CDs, that is a lot of copies. The CDs will cost the publisher upwards of 10p each, and costly TV advertising will usually support the promotion.

Cheap flights, weekends, lunches and dinners are all used to boost circulation. Collecting tokens is a popular device because it requires repeat purchase of the paper, but the impact is much less than the free CD or book. (The Mail started the year with The A-Z of Family Health). Part works - walks, wine, fitness and diet - are used because, again, they require repeat purchase of the paper. The CD seldom leads to much retention.

None of this has anything to do with news, but it is everything to do with selling newspapers in an era of highly competitive decline. I was in HMV the other day, and they gave me a free newspaper with my CD... no, not really.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

DIARY

Going into Labour

David Yelland, the former editor of The Sun, has been approached discreetly by the Labour Party to beef up its press office in the forthcoming general election campaign. Among issues to be resolved before he says a firm yes is whether his boss at Weber Shandwick, Colin Byrne, is entirely happy to let him go.

Early day commotion

Last Wednesday's front-page splash in the Daily Express about security failings in Blair's Britain revealed that an accredited reporter had taken an unchecked bag into Parliament. The reaction was swift: between 9am and noon, those arriving with lobby or press gallery passes were frisked. One reporter had his wallet searched and another hadher pedometer X-rayed. This spiteful and childish exercise applied only to hacks, not to researchers, MPs, or ancillary workers. Three hours later, it was business as usual.

Round one to the licensees

Paul Dacre, beware. War has been declared on the Daily Mail - by the pubs trade mag, The Morning Advertiser. Its latest front page attacks the Mail's campaign against 24-hour drinking. Industry veterans include Ted Tuppen, of pub giant Enterprise Inns, who calls the campaign "ludicrous". The Morning Ad also discovered that, despite the Mail's vision of drunken yobs in every city centre, not one of the eight chains interviewed was planning to apply for a 24-hour licence.

Laugh? Letts not

Quentin Letts, the Daily Mail's parliamentary sketchwriter, seems to be on a mission to offend. First he revelled in the discomfiture of his fellow sketchwriter, The Guardian's Simon Hoggart, on being named asone of Kimberly Quinn's conquests. In Friday's sketch he observed that two junior education ministers, Stephen Twigg and Derek Twigg, shared a surname: "Some of us tried to devise a collective noun for twigs. We realised that one already exists - 'a faggot'." Cue Ben Summerskill of the gay rights pressure group Stonewall: "He [Letts] seems to be becoming the Jim Davidson of Fleet Street."

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