Select Committee on Communications Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1500 - 1519)


Ms Rebekah Wade

  Q1500  Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: Its main difference, if you will forgive my saying so, is that it is free.

  Ms Wade: What? thelondonpaper and The Sun?

  Q1501  Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: Yes.

  Ms Wade: I think there are a lot more differences than that, in terms of the editorial—

  Q1502  Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: I would expect you to say that but, none the less, you have already said that it is the same market, or certainly a very similar market, that is being appealed to by those newspapers.

  Ms Wade: I said if you look at the Daily Mail/Sun territory—so, yes, they are in our market but I think that thelondonpaper is very, very different to The Sun.

  Q1503  Chairman: Did you see the report in the Financial Times this Saturday which quoted one analyst as saying that, because of the reductions in circulation, it accelerates the arrival of the day when either the Mirror or The Sun, but probably The Sun, will decide to go free themselves? Do you envisage that day?

  Ms Wade: No.

  Q1504  Chairman: Absolutely no?

  Ms Wade: Not for the foreseeable future, certainly not.

  Q1505  Chairman: Not for the foreseeable future. You have no present plans?

  Ms Wade: No.

  Q1506  Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: Stephen Glover told us in the Independent on 14 January that The Sun has been discounting 15p in London and Scotland—selling under your normal price.

  Ms Wade: Twenty pence.

  Q1507  Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: How does that fit with what I understood you to be saying about free sheets damaging your circulation? You are using The Sun in some circumstances as a free sheet, in that sense.

  Ms Wade: No. It is still 20p; it is not free.

  Q1508  Lord Inglewood: My first question follows on from that. Quite a lot of your readership is through bulks, and bulks are halfway to being free sheets too, are they not?

  Ms Wade: I am sorry, could you repeat the question?

  Q1509  Lord Inglewood: Talking about this move towards ever-cheaper newspapers—putting it that way—is it not about a third of your total sales that form bulks in one form or another? Have I got the wrong statistic?

  Ms Wade: The Sun?

  Q1510  Lord Inglewood: Yes.

  Ms Wade: We have never ever done bulks.

  Q1511  Lord Inglewood: You do not do any bulks at all?

  Ms Wade: We never give The Sun away for free.

  Q1512  Lord Inglewood: You just sell it cheap.

  Ms Wade: Cheaper.

  Q1513  Lord Inglewood: Fair enough, cheaper.

  Ms Wade: I do not think that there is anything wrong with giving the readers the best deal.

  Q1514  Lord Inglewood: No, even if it is a free deal.

  Ms Wade: It is not free; it is 20p. In the rarefied world of the House of Lords, 20p might be "free", but it is not out there.

  Q1515  Lord Inglewood: In the context that you have a declining readership and so on, like everybody else, what is your definition of the Sun reader? You talk a lot about your readers, and they are almost being defined as the people who happen to read your newspaper; but it cannot be as simple as that. What group of people out there, men and women, do you think are what I call "the Sun readership"? When we had William Lewis of the Telegraph, he had a rather nice phrase: he talked about "Telegraph folk". I do not suppose you would talk about "Sun folk", but who are these people? What are their determining characteristics?

  Ms Wade: We have probably got quite a number of Sun readers in this house, I would have thought. It is very difficult actually, and this is a point that My Lord Chairman made right at the beginning. When you are talking about a size of 7.7 or eight million readers, it is very difficult to define and have in your head one reader.

  Q1516  Lord Inglewood: But you have told us that you define a lot of what you put in the newspaper by reference to what you think of as the best interests of your readers; so you must have some idea about it.

  Ms Wade: We have a very good idea, in general. I am just saying that if you wanted me to describe "Mr Sun reader", it could be you; it could be My Lord Chairman; it could be half the people in this room. However, every year we go on holiday with the readers, and have done since I was Editor of the News of the World. We go away for three or four days, usually somewhere in the UK. There are on average between 3,000 to 5,000 Sun/News of the World readers there when we go on this holiday. First of all, we always have a fantastic time with the readers, but we find it very useful to have that one-to-one time with them about a whole range of issues. For example, a lot of Sun readers wake up in the morning and are very worried about MRSA and C. difficile at the moment. Every time there is a situation where a Sun reader has to go into hospital, or a relative or anything, they want to know. I think that over the years The Sun has established itself as being able to tell them the facts on these serious issues, in a way that everybody can understand. Yes, we do know our readers, because we spend a lot of time with them, but they also tell us a lot of things. With these polls that we do, these "You The Jury", you can get a very quick reaction from Sun readers. With the advent of the internet and online, we were the first newspaper to start something up called "My Sun". It is a forum for the readers to debate anything that they have seen in the newspaper. It is the modern equivalent of what the old mailroom used to be. When I first started at News International, the Sun's mailroom was full; now a lot of that has transferred to email and onto the internet. Any one of you can go on to "My Sun" after this session and see what some readers are debating, and you can see the volume; so you understand what the majority of Sun readers are interested in. Obviously, in 7.7 million readers you do not please everybody every day, and they often let us know.

  Q1517  Baroness Thornton: I want to ask you two questions. One is about why you think that, proportionately, the "red tops" have lost more readership than the so-called "quality" sector. For example, between 1992 and 2006 the quality sector lost 10% of its readership and the red tops lost 34%, and it is really why you think that might be the case. The second thing—and it is something we have been interested in from all the newspapers and broadcasters we have seen—is about young people and the news; what we are going to do about the fact that young people do not seem to be reading newspapers and where they are getting their news from. It is about what you think might happen.

  Ms Wade: The first question is very interesting—the difference between the "quality" market, so to speak, and the red tops. With a lot of the red top circulation decline—or the popular newspaper decline, and putting the Mail and the Express into that group—the issue is the way we sell and the way we distribute, as opposed to the model of the broadsheet which is subscription and home delivery. For example, the popular newspapers' biggest issue is frequency. We sell to the highest percentage of our readers in independent retailers. If you look at the independent retailer sector, which I am sure you are all very interested in doing, it is fascinating to see that these shops are closing at an alarming rate and are being overtaken by big supermarkets. No one goes to the supermarket every day, in the way that they used to go to the corner shop every day. I know that I am paraphrasing the last ten years, but you have the broadsheets which can absolutely maintain a subscription model directly with their readers or a home delivery model; most of the popular papers, apart from the ones that do bulk, rely on people getting up every day, going into that shop and paying their 35p or, in Carlton, their 20p. We rely on that, and therefore the frequency has gone. When we go on these holidays with the readers—I think that we are going to Bognor this year with the readers—one of the things that I want to explore with them is where are they every day? Are we not getting to them? That is the responsibility of newspaper groups, certainly in the popular market, to get to the readers every day. At the moment, we have Tesco and Asda being your single biggest retailer—where, as I say, people do not go every day. I do think that is where the issue is between the red tops and the broadsheets.

  Q1518  Bishop of Manchester: To pursue the issue of boosting sales and the content of the paper, I wonder if you could tell me first of all what you feel the impact is, in terms of importance of sales; and—in a way, to amend a phrase, this invites you to give me an "as the editor said to the bishop" kind of line—what about Page 3?

  Ms Wade: You have stolen my line! Actually, I hear Page 3 is very popular with bishops—which surprised me!

  Q1519  Bishop of Manchester: But it was my colleagues "Wot told me about it"!

  Ms Wade: If you want to meet Keeley, you only have to ask!

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