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The Cashless Society Finally Hits Paid-For Newspaper Newsstands And What A Great Idea It Is!

Philip M. Stone,

Associated Newspapers has hit upon a gem of an idea for its faltering Evening Standard newspaper that competes against two free newspapers in London. Prepay your newspaper via the Internet and just tap a card on an electronic pad at the newsstand and not only do you get a cut-price paper but also reward points, and even free I-Tunes.

The Standard is taking a page from the very successful Transport for London campaign in which most Londoners now prepay their public transport via what are called “Oyster” cards by tapping them on a pad located in every bus and at every Underground (subway, Metro) station. The system charges cut-rate prices for trips and puts a cap on the daily travel expense. Not only has it speeded up bus boarding procedures, the system actually works. It was surely just a matter of time before the private sector tried it, so why not a newspaper?

An added beauty to the system is that users “top-up” their cards via the Internet, paying by credit or debit cards. But to do this one has to register and will need to provide such information as name and address, post code etc. Now to a newspaper that is almost entirely sold on the newsstand what a goldmine of information that is going to be gained to attract advertisers.

The Standard knows it now has a daily circulation of some 270,000, including about one-third bulk sales, but if an advertiser were to ask management exactly who the readers were there is no answer. except to say it is people on their way home from work.

With the new system those people can be tracked, advertising campaigns aimed at readers, and advertising sales campaigns aimed at advertisers who want to target specific demographics can be launched. Subscription newspapers can provide such information but a newspaper that is practically 100% newsstand sales cannot identify its customers and this system will give them the tools to do just that.

In announcing the scheme this week the Standard did not say how much of a discount the card would be worth on each day’s newspaper. A year ago the newspaper raised its price from 40 pence to 50 pence as part of a two-fisted campaign to fight the introduction of Rupert Murdoch’s new free PM newspaper, thelondonpaper.  The other fist in Associated’s stable was to bring out its own free newspaper, London Lite. Both started with a circulation of 400,000 each weekday and after a few months thelondonpaper increased its daily run to 500,000.

And the Evening Standard has not fared well in the year, although the spin from Associated is that it has done remarkably well to be doing what it is doing. The official August audit numbers showed its circulation down 11.38% from last August to 277,555 copies but dig into those numbers and the results are really much worse. A year ago the circulation was 317,511 of which 12% (some 38,000 copies) were bulk sales to hotels, airlines and the like at greatly discounted prices.  Today’s 277,555 figure includes 34% bulk sales (95,111 copies). Do a like-on-like of full price sales and it is 182,444 today compares to 279,433 of a year ago, down almost 100,000 copies (34%).

So by using the card it can implement a climb-down of that year-ago price hike.

Andrew Mullins, the Standard’s managing director, explained, “We are very excited to be the first newspaper to introduce this cashless and reward based payment system. Over the next two years in London (the central area) will increasingly become a cashless payment zone and the Evening Standard will be helping drive and leads this trend. The Evening Standard Eros card is a genuine innovation. It not only provides greater convenience for our loyal readers but also appropriate added value benefit rewards.”

And Mullins emphasized the marketing goldmine the system should provide.  “For the first time we will have in-depth knowledge of how many people are buying the paper, and on what day and at what time.”

As an incentive for the cards that are being given out for the first time next week, when users top up those cards on the Internet they will be eligible for five free downloads from I-Tunes. In a statement the Standard said, “Users of the card will discover that it saves money over paying directly by cash. And because of the loyalty rewards package, cardholders will benefit from additional privileges as well as exclusive added value and discount offers provided by card partners.

But why call the card Eros, the Greek mythical God of love? Take a look at the illustration at the top of this story and you should be able to make out that the logo for the card is superimposed over a statue of Eros, and that statue has been a part of the Standard’s logo for many years (anyone out there know how that came to be and why?) The original aluminum statue was sculpted by Alfred Gilbert and finished in 1893 and it has stood for most years since then Piccadilly Circus – London’s Time Square. Associated Newspapers  has tried to trademark the statue, but is opposed by the Westminster City Council on the basis that such a well known symbol of London should not be monopolized for private reasons.

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