Will loyalty cards save the newspaper industry?

London’s Waterloo train station is fast becoming the latest battleground in a bloody tabloid circulation war. A few weeks ago vendors were selling the The Sun newspaper in the rain. This week we saw the boys and girls of the London Evening Standard inviting commuters to sign-up to a loyalty card scheme. Unfortunately, neither effort is likely to halt the decline of paid-for newspapers in the capital.

Solving declining circulation:  The Sun

The boys and girls flogging The Sun outside Waterloo looked remarkably similar to the ones who shove free copies of TheLondonPaper in your hand at 4pm. But to the confusion of many a passers-by, The Sun wasn’t being given away for free. It was available for the near-free, knockdown, take it or leave it, price of 20 pence.

Sadly, the punters weren’t biting. It seemed that commuters would rather put their 20 pence towards the cost of a pack of Polo mints, or perhaps a Yorkie, rather than the Bun.

Indeed, the perceived ‘value of news’ is crumbling as quickly as you can consume a chocolate bar. In a time of news overload, few Londoners seem to be able to spot the difference between a write-up from a newswire and a genuine exclusive. Perhaps they can spot the difference, but just don’t care. Sod the brand and sod the exclusives, the attitude is: “give me something light, entertaining and make it free.”

But Murdoch has made his own Egyptian-cotton-lined-bed and now he must sleep in it. Why not just go the whole way and give The Sun away for free in London? This idea must have been mooted at some point by some clever exec at News International by now.

Solving declining circulation:  London Evening Standard

Now for something a little more interesting. The Evening Standard has come to the startling conclusion that to raise circulation you could reward customers for loyalty. This wouldn’t be big news for the likes of Tesco or Sainsbury’s who have been at this game for years. But Associated Press, which owns the Standard, doesn’t sell bananas. It sells right-wing opinion and in this context the idea of rewarding readers’ loyalty is, quite frankly, revolutionary.

So this week a different lot of raincoat-clad boys and girls were handing out info about the Eros Card at Waterloo. Just to be clear, this isn’t a loyalty card for a local sex shop. It just allows readers to pay for their copy of ES electronically. It works in a similar way to the Oyster card on the London Tube.

On a surface level, this seems like a genuinely decent attempt to make life easier for people who hate fumbling around in the street looking for change in their wallet.

The card also allows the possibility of giving readers savings on the normal price of the Standard. Why not reward loyalty in this new world of fragmenting media audiences?

Newspapers are pretty bad at serving their best customers. I would love to be able to get a newsagent to deliver The Guardian to my flat, but where are all the newspaper boys (and girls) when you need them? It would appear that even YouTube-watching 14 year-olds realise that there’s no money in print media these days.

And like all good supermarket loyalty cards, Eros Card allows Associated to learn tons about readers’ purchasing habits. This is the type of important data that newspapers so far have been pretty bad at collecting.

The scheme won’t save the Standard’s dwindling circulation crisis, but it could have an impact if a similar scheme was launched nationally by a shop that sells a lot of newspapers, like WH Smith.

More Info:
Evening Standard Launches New Payment System (DmNews)
Standard Loyalty Card – Good idea too late (Wordblog)

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One Response to Will loyalty cards save the newspaper industry?

  1. Sean October 1, 2007 at 1:39 pm #

    The Guardian used to have a loyalty scheme for students. They gave you a book of money-off vouchers when I was at Uni (1991 ish). At the end of term, if you had used enough of them, you got a gift. I think it was a branded mug at the end of term one.