Rebekah Brooks: she talk with forked tongue

Even the dimmest in Malcolm’s classes would understand the ambiguity in advertisements such as:

Nothing works faster than [Brand x]!

Indeed, the odd cry of “so buy nothing!” became the (cleaned-up) norm when faced with a double-entendre.

Thus, such students, now reached maturity and more, would have looked wryly at the strap across the front page of yesterday’s Times.

We see a mash-up of royals, sportsmen, William Hague, President Obama, an opera singer, all hailing the boast:

Britain’s bestselling digital newspaper

That should, of course, be translated to:

Britain’s only digital newspaper

Now consider the numbers, which appear as the single story on page 5, so deemed more significant than minor matters such as Libya (page 6) and Japanese fall-out (page 15).

Here’s the skinny:

News International announced in November that the papers’ new digital products had recorded more than 105,000 sales in four months. At the end of February the total sales figure stood at 222,000.

That, too, is ambiguous.

It could (and logically does) mean that after seven months (212 days, if Malcolm’s count of the calendar is correct) the average daily “sale” for the on-line Times and Sunday Times may be little more than 1,000 a day:

222,000 = 1,047
212

What makes that even more remarkable is that pre-paid subscribers to the print edition get the on-line one free. Are they included in the numbers?

Malcolm buys his daily dose of the Times/Sunday Times and the Guardian/Observer through the token scheme. Every quarter he receives a small booklet of identified daily tokens. The result is he gets the expensive Saturday and Sunday issues for “free”. He can also access the on-line Times/Sunday Times sites without charge, let or hindrance.

These tokens cause persistent problems at check-outs: “Oooh, I’ve never seen one of these before!”. That suggests they are not widely used.

One way and another, the News International digital editions may not be anything like the success claimed. As Malcolm recalls, when the November claim was made, Guido Fawkes noted that the Times numbers paled into insignificance, and by a considerable factor, against his daily stat-porn.

An equally cynical view comes from Dan Sabbagh in Tuesday’s Guardian, armed with an alternative — and authoritative —view of the numbers:

A total of 79,000 people pay to subscribe to the Times and Sunday Times online, on an iPad or via a Kindle, a gain of 29,000 over the past five months, according to figures for the end of February released by News Corporation on Tuesday.

The figure is up on the 50,000 reported in November, suggesting that News Corp is making some progress with the much debated ‘paywall’ model, although it comes at a time when higher-priced print sales of the Times are falling sharply.

The Times’s printed circulation – as measured by the number of copies sold in the UK and Ireland – has fallen by 12.1% or 58,421 copies in the past year, hitting 425,627 in February. A more resilient Sunday Times declined 6.9% or 74,557 to reach 1,005,206 in the same month.

Online subscribers are worth far less to News Corp because the price it is charging is so heavily discounted compared with the print edition. The £2-a-week online charge amounts to £8.67 a month – by comparison a loyal, daily buyer of both titles at the newsstand pays £8.70 a week.

So all the heavy plugging, across all News International outlets and elsewhere, has garnered just a thousand new e-subscribers per week, while shedding a slightly larger number from print sales.

Hardly a raging success story.

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Filed under Guardian, Guido Fawkes, Observer, Paul Staines, reading, Sunday Times, Times

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