Katie Allen, The Guardian
When Britain’s first newspaper swipe card launches today it will be available only to a handful of London commuters. But the inventors of the cashless payment system say the pieces are in place for similar schemes across the country and that before long we could all be buying newspapers by merely tapping our mobile phones on special readers.
The Evening Standard’s Eros loyalty card will be distributed at Waterloo station today before being extended across the capital next month. The card, which is similar to London Transport’s Oyster card, can be topped up with credit online and used at special readers to buy the paper, which is fighting to win back readers from free rivals.
The Eros card’s creators – marketing consultancy HH&S and i-movo, a technology company specialising in digital vouchers schemes – believe the scheme may be a world first.
The chief executive of i-movo, David Tymm, says the idea came from its observations that many papers were still running voucher and subscription schemes. “That made us look at newsagents and think about what they all have, and they mainly all have mobile phone top-up terminals.” So his company developed a system that works using credit card payment infrastructure including the mobile phone top-up terminals, and started running trials.
Having done deals with major providers of top-up terminals, i-movo estimates its vouchers – distributed on cards or as text messages on mobile phones – could be used in 30,000 outlets nationwide. About 5,000 sell the Evening Standard.
As newspapers fight to hold up sales in the face of online news and free papers such as the commuter-aimed Metro, cashless reward cards could be adopted by other titles. “We do have high hopes that this will be the de facto standard for newspapers,” says Mr Tymm.
One of the main attractions for newspapers is that they can incorporate discounts and giveaways to loyal readers. The Standard is offering free music downloads on Apple’s iTunes site, a move that could herald the death of the free CD and DVD with newspapers.
The drawback is that each loyalty scheme requires users to carry around a separate piece of plastic. Mr Tymm says cards will soon give way to the new generation of mobile phones that can power a range of subscription deals on one handset. Phones with near-field communication technology, which allows the handsets to store details of a range of cards, including credit and debit, travel cards such as Oyster as well as newspaper subscription deals, are already coming on to the market.
“The first time you’ll see this is sooner than you think,” says Mr Tymm. “Within a year we’ll see the very first signs and within three years Visa cards, Oyster and so on could all be on phones.”