The Sun comes out on the streets of London

City workers and early bird shoppers have a new outlet for their stray coppers; The Sun, the country’s biggest-selling daily, is being punted from approximately 100 street pitches during the morning rush, as well as over the lunch period. However, picking up a copy won’t lighten the pocket or purse by much – inside the M25, the previously 35p tabloid now sells for just 20p.

The left-and-right-hander of a lower price tag and the return of the street vendor looks like a gimmick; both The Sun and The Mirror have, in the past, used short term price cuts to temporarily boost interest and circulation. Under the surface, however, there’s a strong feeling that this time it’s more than just a muscle-flexing exercise. The Sun faces serious challenges to its supremacy, and is seen by many analysts to be exploring every available route to maximise sales.

Of principal concern is the paper’s daily circulation, currently hovering just above the 3 million mark. Dropping below this would represent a huge and unwelcome milestone for Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid. The advertising rates that a paper can charge are based on its circulation, and advertisers would expect a drop below 3 million copies to be reflected in their costs.

In addition, The Sun gains considerable ‘brand leadership equity’ from its current healthy lead of between 600,000 and 700,000 daily sales over its nearest rival (the Daily Mail) – that’s the benefit of not just being the best, but being the best by a mile, to you and me. Were that margin to reduce by, say, 50%, then the double whammy of falling circulation coupled with strong opposition could prove very costly.

A second concern relates particularly to London, and helps explain why only the capital’s tabloid readers have been targeted in the current campaign. Never The Sun’s best area – London is a Daily Mail stronghold – things have been made even tougher recently by a surge in take-up of the Mail’s freebie sibling, Metro. Some estimates indicate that 250,000 extra copies are being picked up daily, the vast majority of them in the City.

Of course, there is strong evidence to suggest that this may be just another short term strategic reader bonus. The Sun can easily absorb the lost sales revenue, and may simply be responding to similar recent initiatives by other publishers (the Prince CD giveaway in the Mail on Sunday a few weeks ago was credited with a 4% sales boost, for example). It will be interesting to see what the net effect on sales is, though; if it isn’t extremely positive, then it’s likely that this won’t be the last piece of circulation stimulation to put newspapers into the news.

Doug Brett-Matthewson


5th September 2007

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