Part-free strategy takes its tolls on ABCs

If you offer a choice of paying for something or having it for free the result is inevitable. This explains why the three papers offering free versions of their paid-for papers are shedding double-figure percentages.

The Reading Evening Post has expanded a part-paid, part-free strategy, which was introduced two years ago on Wednesdays only, to the rest of the week. It was the first UK?paper to go part-paid part-free.

Post editor Andy Murrill said: ‘We are very bullish about our paid-for sale and we don’t see it as an inevitable decline. We haven’t looked at going completely free at this stage but as far as I’m concerned it’s about readership –?and as long as people are reading the paper that is good.

‘One of the best things to happen to the Post is going out free on a Wednesday. I don’t care if the people who are reading and responding to the paper have bought it, had it pushed through their letter box or have read it online. We used to have one letters page and we now have two; the interaction with the public is greater than it’s been since I moved here in 1994.

‘I’m sure a lot of people are looking at the strategy. One of the key pointers is: Do you attract the people you want and does it benefit you commercially?”

A 21 per cent dip in sales at the Post to 13,664 can also be attributed to the paper’s decision to strip out 10 per cent of its bulk sales. On top of 80,000 free home-delivery copies on a Wednesday, the Post now gives away 1,600 each day to companies, business parks and schools – bringing total paid-for and free distribution to 15,600 a day. Because of fewer bulks the combined figure is still below last year’s solely paid-for figure of 15,720.

Murrill said: ‘There are a great number of IT professionals who have recently moved to Reading, which has the fastest growing economy in the UK. We are now reaching these highly sought-after young people in addition to our traditional readership.’

The Manchester Evening News shed 24.2 per cent of its sales, after a loss of 26.8 per cent in the last period. The part-free strategy means the paper is now reaching 180,000 people in a boost to ad revenues.

MEN Media managing director Mark Rix said: ‘In the full year from launching the MEN free in Manchester city centre, this category of business was ahead of the previous year by 8.8 per cent while the trend for the regional daily press sector as a whole was below the previous year by a similar margin. Perhaps an unlikely coincidence?’

And the Liverpool Post’s part-paid part-free strategy has resulted in a 10.5 per cent dip in sales, to 15,980. A further 6,406 are given away daily.

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