As digital offerings continue to grow stronger, could a race for subscriptions devalue news brands?

As their digital products go from strength to strength, news brands are investing ever more in measuring and understanding their readership across platforms. This research is helping agencies invest with greater confidence across print and digital.

The Daily Mail is offering a 'free' Kindle Fire HD to Mail Plus subscribers

Leading the way is Newsworks, the marketing body for national newspapers in all their forms.

Newsworks’ Tablet Project, published in May 2014, quantified what we intuitively know, that newspapers have made a brilliant transition onto tablet, with products appealing to readers delivering real results for advertisers.

The Tablet Project arrived hot on the heels of NewsUK’s Influence research study.

When it comes to understanding the differences between print and digital readers, The teams behind both projects can count themselves fortunate; they live in the middle of a giant natural experiment. Some people pick up a paper a couple of times a week, others are seven-day subscribers. Some of us only ever read online, while others switch between print and digital editions across the course of a day. All these different types of readers can be found in large numbers in every street in the land.

So what did NewsUK find? That readers who use tablets are reading more frequently. That Print + Tablet readers are more ‘committed’ to their newspaper than print readers alone. Most crucially for marketers, that those people reading across both print and tablet editions have a markedly higher ad recall then those only reading print.

This is all great news and NewsUK should be applauded for giving agencies the ammunition they vitally need.

What’s interesting is how long that digital value will last?

News brands may already be shooting themselves in the foot. The Times has been encouraging readers to subscribe by offering a Nexus 7 for just £50. In response, The Daily Mail is offering a ‘free’ Kindle Fire HD as part of an annual subscription.

The Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD are both brilliant devices (if you haven’t already I’d encourage any Apple purists out there to give them a go). But if we devalue the hardware, are we also in danger of devaluing the content they carry? Tablets aren’t quite ubiquitous but they’re getting there, and we all know someone with at least a couple in their home.

In fact, a Mintel report from November 2013 spoke of the dangers of offering cut-price tablet devices: “There is a subtle difference between a market with devices available at many price points and a changing of that market into a commodity with little inherent value”.

I only hope that when NewsUK repeats its research in a few years’ time, it doesn’t live to regret giving away tablets in a race for subscriptions.

Dave Grainger is head of strategy at Initiative UK.

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