Telegraph drops bulks in bid to restore 'sales reality'

Moore: "People don’t understand the Telegraph is the market leader

Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore welcomed a "more realistic" sales figure this week as the paper’s official circulation dipped below the magic million.

The Telegraph Group has decided to stop its costly policy of distributing thousands of free copies – known in the trade as "sampling" or "bulks" – and use the money to improve and promote the papers themselves.

"I think it’s long overdue. What’s been happening has been a bit of a waste of mental energy and money.  We and the other papers have been chasing numbers rather than reality.  It’s a bit like when the Government says it’s going to have a target. You become obsessed with the target rather than the reality.

"We shouldn’t be doing this. We should be expending our energy to promote the product," said Moore.

The announcement also marks the end of the broadsheet price war, started by News International boss Rupert Murdoch in 1993. The Daily Telegraph put its price up in September and was quickly followed by The Times and this week by The Guardian.

The end to the price war comes after the worst recession in 50 years hit the advertising world, forcing newspapers to rethink the balance of their revenues. Nine years ago, for example, the Telegraph’s was made up of 55 per cent  advertising and 45 per cent cover price and the advertising content has steadily increased ever since.

"That meant that readers have been getting the paper at an unrealistically low price," said Telegraph Group managing director Jeremy Deedes. "Two years ago, when advertising hit the buffers, we realised that it was unsustainable to have your business reliant upon advertising to that degree. The year 2000 was a boom year and if you compared that year with today you would be reaching for the Luger."

An estimated 20 per cent drop in ad revenue, such as the Telegraph suffered, represents about £40m, which accounts for the strategy rethink. "The evolutionary process is now being given a go-faster pill. The risk is that some people have been getting free copies for so long that we don’t know how many people will order. That’s the disservice that Murdoch did when he started all this. It devalued the newspapers," Deedes added.

The true figure won’t be known for several months as there are notice periods ranging from a week to three months for stopping some of the bulk sales deals. The group will still give sample copies to airlines.

Moore said he had been keen to make these changes for some time. "I have been frustrated as an editor in not being able to put our money where our mouth is. Significant sums of money have been spent year after year. We are going to reallocate it.  That means strategic ad campaigns, the building of the product. This is the appropriate thing to do, otherwise it is finger in the dyke stuff."

"We are the market leader but not a lot of people understand that. We have not been able to advertise because we have been spending too much money on bulks. Ours is a very low ad spend compared to the Daily Mail."

He expects the new strategy for developing the brand and improving the paper to change that. "It will not be a completely new Daily Telegraph. More a case of developing and improving all aspects of the paper and boasting about them."

By Philippa Kennedy

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