To some it’s a mark of desperation, the last gasp of a dying beast. To others, the Daily Record PM going free was as inevitable as the sun rising. The publisher first dipped its toe in the free newspaper market in June last year, when it launched a commuter edition of its weekly paper, The Glaswegian, then in September revealed it was going to launch a 15p ‘PM’ edition for Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Many assumed the strategy was to claw back circulation in its bid to regain lead position in the ABCs against The Scottish Sun, but the launch itself wasn’t a huge success. Initial sales peaked at 10,000 dropping to 6,000 and stabilising at 8,000. However, the publisher was slightly ridiculed for adopting a strategy of giving away products such as water and crisps to entice buyers.
That test strategy must have been more of a success than first thought as now, less than four months later, the PM edition is going free and is being complemented with dedicated editions [also free] in Aberdeen and Dundee.
An initial circulation of 20,000 is planned for the launch, which will take place on 22 January, with a network of 50 distributors across the four cities handing out the paper to readers. Unlike the current PM edition – which goes on sale at 2pm – the free edition will be handed out between 5 and 7pm.
The relaunch has already been described as a mistake, with one media hack describing it as the ‘first strike in what will be a bloodbath’. There are claims that the main edition will lose value as readers will prefer to wait to get the paper for free in the evening. Others are damning the publisher – which doesn’t own an evening newspaper in Scotland – for taking on Glasgow’s Evening Times, the Edinburgh Evening News, Aberdeen Evening Express and Dundee’s Evening Telegraph.
“People are getting confused that we are targeting these four evening newspapers, and we’re not,” says Mark Hollinshead, managing director of Daily Record & Sunday Mail. “We’re looking at the time and at the element of geography, and they happen to be occupied by other newspapers. There are very, very few gaps in the market at this moment in time. We’re promoting newspaper readership as a whole rather than trying to reduce it.”
Hollinshead is bullish in defending the company’s strategy. “The Glaswegian [going commuter] was a test,” he admits. “The free PM formula, from our own analysis, is the quickest route to market to target new readers in new geographies. We’re looking to target a younger demographic; non-readers of newspapers. We sell 98 percent of our copies before five o’clock, so it’s not like London, where you’ve got an Evening Standard vendor trying to sell copies, straddled by two distributors thrusting copies into the hands of punters. The Daily Record is a national morning paper.”
The argument that readers will be put off by reading the same stories in the PM version as they read in the morning edition is quickly dismissed. “Of course, there’ll be duplication of content,” Hollinshead says. “But we’re going to be targeting a demographic who are most likely to not buy newspapers. If you look at the way that Metro works in the morning, it’s more replication of that format in the evening. It’s more trying to grow the market and there are ways of doing that. You can cut the price of your own newspaper, you can direct market or you can sample with something similar. It will of course heavily promote the Daily Record, but a lot of the core content in the Daily Record won’t be available in the PM edition.”
The distribution method seems to be key in the strategy of delivering for advertisers. “If we hook several thousand in [to the main edition], fantastic,” says Hollinshead. “But it’s not the main battering ram of our strategy. Everyone’s struggling to find the holy grail of new readers. I was asked ‘why aren’t you putting it on the buses?’ The first and most important thing is that we want to be in control of who we hand it to. I was involved in the birth of the Metro idea up here and one of the first concepts they were pushing of these urbanites, was that people on the buses at six in the morning were upwardly mobile C1s. Well, have you ever stood at a bus stop in Bridgeton at 6am in the morning and seen all these upwardly mobile C1s? That’s why we had to develop the distribution logistics. All the distributors are being presented to by me, to say ‘these are who we want’.”
Hollinshead denies that there was pressure on Daily Record & Sunday Mail to act swiftly once it was revealed that Associated Newspapers had registered domain names for a Glasgow Lite and Edinburgh Lite and that News International had plans for theglasgowpaper and theedinburghpaper. “Before any of them had been registered, we had already started to contemplate how we were going to grow audience long term,” says Hollinshead. “Yes, development of sale of the core main edition is critical to that and we continue to do that but in terms of exploiting new geographies and new demographics quickly, you have to explore different publishing formulas.“
When looked at laterally, the strategy could make sense. The Daily Record series now consists of the main, paid-for edition, supported by its regional, paid-for editions and then the acutely targeted free PM editions. Bolstered by the soon-to-be revamped digital platforms, the proposition for advertisers is an attractive one. But why have multiple versions to achieve the same overall circulation that it achieved with one version?
“The Daily Record is Scotland’s leading national by 41 per cent, judging by the latest Newspaper Readership Figures, so there’s your impact of the 10p Sun, it’s had no impact on readership,” says Hollinshead. “If you add the main edition of the Record plus free PM, I’m sure that will put us very, very close back to market leadership in the ABCs. The benefit is enlarged audience, both national and regionally. If you’re expanding the size of the audience, and if the demographics attracted to those extra copies are different, then you supply an incremental audience for your advertising base. Those who stand still in this current media market go rusty, don’t they?”