During December and early January, I received almost daily emails from the Telegraph offering me a three-month digital subscription for £1 – which is equivalent to just over 1p a day. The latest offer I have received is four months of the full digital versions of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph for just £3 – equivalent to 2.5p a day, which is just 1% of the weekday cover price.
The Telegraph knows I am a regular reader of the paper, and its telesales force has tried on numerous occasions to sell me a print subscription.
I have always declined, partly because I am happy to pay for my paper on a daily basis, even if it costs me a bit more, and also because I know several reasons why news retailers prefer to be paid in cash for counter sale copies, rather than with small pieces of paper.
Even so, I was tempted by the 1p-a-day digital offer, not because I thought I could put up with reading long articles from the Telegraph on my 10-inch tablet, or because it offered the prospect of saving more than £200 on print issues over three months.
The main attraction was the ability to start reading the day’s Telegraph on those days when the print copies failed to arrive at our village shop on time – and there were plenty of days from the autumn until Christmas when the lateness of the papers was disgraceful.
On one occasion, the papers failed to arrive at all – and, incidentally, the shop owner is still fighting for restitution.
I have raised this issue because, while nearly all UK newspapers – regionals and nationals – are driving hard towards digital, most of them are battling to build their digital revenues to sustainable levels before their print revenues finally run out.
This raises two questions. The first is why, given the importance of maintaining print revenues for as long as possible, offer existing print customers a digital subscription at what amounts to a fire-sale price?
Some print readers will inevitably inevitably accept the offer, and the Telegraph will have robbed its print ‘Peter’ to benefit its digital ‘Paul’ – and, in the process, make it easier to reach its target of one million subscribers by the end of next year.
The latest figures from the publisher show it has more than 700,000 subscriptions, of which 178,000 are print editions.
My second question is about the Telegraph’s support for the retail trade.
Will it, at the time of its next cover-price increase, maintain pro-rata terms, as other national publishers have done in the latest round of price increases?
Pro-rata terms are a signal that publishers recognise they have a mutual interest with retailers in maintaining print sales for as long as possible.
It won’t be easy. In the year to November 2021 – the latest month for which figures are available – sales of the national dailies that continue to publish their ABC figures fell by more than 9%.
This has no doubt been due, partially, to Covid-19 chaos and partially to falling demand, but, sadly, partially also to appalling newstrade service levels that deny readers their papers when they want them.
Distribution to retailers needs to change, and the publishers need to make it happen before it’s too late.
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