'Independent' cuts price as newspaper war escalates: Swift action follows 'Telegraph' move in battle for broadsheet market

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THE PRICE WAR between Britain's quality daily newspapers intensified yesterday when the Independent announced a one-day reduction from 50p to 20p, shortly after the Daily Telegraph cut the price of its weekday paper from 48p to 30p.

The reductions will fuel the fierce battle in the daily broadsheet market which began nine months ago when the Times cut its weekday price from 45p to 30p. This has boosted its circulation to 517,575 in May - 158,000 higher than a year ago.

The renewed hostilities began yesterday with an announcement by Max Hastings, editor-in-chief of the Daily Telegraph, that from today the paper, the biggest-selling daily broadsheet, will cost the same as the Times.

The Independent swiftly replied with a one-day reduction to 20p.

Andreas Whittam Smith, the editor, said: 'We do not intend to allow our voice to be smothered and we have taken strong and swift action to ensure we are heard.

'The board of Newspaper Publishing will now decide what is the best pricing policy but we have to say that we have absolutely no intention of reducing the quality of our newspapers.'

Mr Hastings said that 96 per cent of the Daily Telegraph's readers had carried on buying it despite the Times price cut.

But he added: 'We believe that we should not continue to rely on the loyalty of our readership when other newspapers have reduced their cover prices dramatically.'

He also declared his intention to attract new readers from the middle market tabloids, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, both of which sell for 32p. He believes that the price cut will also bring in new readers and cement the loyalties of occasional buyers.

The Times price cut has already created turmoil in the broadsheet market, hitting rivals such as the Independent and, less drastically, the Guardian.

It has forced sales of the Daily Telegraph below 1 million per day, to 993,000 in May.

It seems that the Daily Telegraph was worried that its traditional dominance of the market might be threatened. The price cut will cost pounds 20m in the remainder of 1994 and pounds 40m in a full year. But the newspaper said that this will be offset by cost cuts and growth in advertising.

Peter Stothard, editor of the Times, said: 'We are delighted to see other papers following our lead, particularly those who were so quick to dismiss our initiative when it began.

'The Times is wholly confident that it can match the quality of its journalism against any competitor in the field.'

Peter Preston, editor of the Guardian, which has so far stood back from the price war, said the Daily Telegraph's cut was not unexpected.

He added: 'There have been signs of strain there for some months. As far as the Guardian is concerned, we will monitor the situation carefully.'