Express prepared for 'long campaign' in war with Mail

Express editor Williams says price cuts were a response to rival’s mail-outs

The vicious circulation war between the Daily Express and the Daily Mail in the London area could go on "indefinitely", says Express editor Chris Williams.

"I wouldn’t rule out a long campaign," he told Press Gazette after battle recommenced with an aggressive mail-out by the Mail to Express readers, urging them to abandon their normal daily because so many of their favourite writers have now joined the opposition.

Express Newspapers proprietor Richard Desmond hit back with a dramatic price cut – the Sunday Express is being sold for 50p and the Daily for 20p during the week and 25p on Saturday – in the lucrative Carlton area inside the M25.

As the Mail sells one and a half million papers in its southern heartland to the Express’s 250,000, the cost to Desmond is a fraction of what it would cost the Mail to cut its price.

The Mail is unlikely to respond in kind for the moment. In fact its executives appeared unbothered about the price cuts. "We rely on the quality of our product," said a spokesman. "I don’t think we are terribly surprised by the Express price cuts and we shall watch with great interest."

Williams denied that it was a panic measure implemented as a result of another poor showing in ABCs – new figures show the Daily Express has fallen below average sales of 900,000 and the Sunday Express down to 838,000.

"It’s certainly not panic. We had a long discussion about the Mail’s big, new aggressive mail-out last week and Richard decided to hit back where it hurts the most and cut the price. So far it is going very well but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of extending it throughout the country," he said.

Last year, an even more aggressive Associated mail-out urging Express readers to abandon a paper "owned by a pornographer" hit the Express badly, as did one by The Mirror.

Williams points out that the Expresses have hired some formidable writing talent and celebrity columnists. "We have made more new signings than they have," he said.

Around £15m has been spent on revamping the Express’s Broughton printworks and, over the weekend, new TV advertising for all three titles must have cost around £1.5m, so Desmond is clearly keen to spend money where he thinks it’s necessary. But staff cuts and the departure of so many star writers has hurt badly.

The gloves-off circulation war has become increasingly nasty, with hard-hitting reports in the Sunday Express’s business pages about the alleged state of its rival’s finances. A previous spat between the two ended after the Express began focusing on the past personal life of Lord Rothermere and a temporary truce was called.

Williams takes comfort in the fact that the Mail "still sees us as a threat". "They are still obsessed with our presence and a lot of the stuff we do, they wish they had done themselves." He points out that his disappointing circulation figures have not been helped by Desmond’s decision not to count the bulks: "When he took over he found out that the circulation was propped up by dubious tactics. They were stopped immediately and circulation fell by 50,000 overnight."

Philippa Kennedy

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