Not so long ago, I had a job working in a 24-hour petrol station, and mostly nights. This meant I had the rare opportunity to see newspapers coming in (in the morning), and unsold ones going back (in the evening).
Because of the events that have come to light this week regarding alleged phone hacking, there’s a lot of talk on Twitter about boycotting Murdoch’s newspapers (specifically the News of the World), or telling newsagent owners about the terrible rubbish in the papers.
Let me give you my reasons, why I think this won’t make any difference:
1. Newspapers are all done ‘sale or return’.
Around 5.30-6:30am, newspapers arrive. They sit there throughout the day, and any that haven’t been sold get picked up again about 11pm. It doesn’t technically “cost” the newsagent anything, to have a pile of NOTW all the way to the ceiling, lying around all day.
2. It harms the newsagent.
Despite what I just said in #1, newsagents make a profit for every paper sold. They buy them at a lower price, they sell them for the cover price. It’s not much of a profit, really. They’ve got to sell a lot of papers to be able to remain trading, and any that get lost or stolen, they have to pay for.
Like it or not, the News of the World is a very high selling newspaper. We had 30+ copies delivered every week, and usually sold out. That and the Mail on Sunday have easily the highest circulations on a Sunday.
Quite regularly I’d count 3 copies of the Observer delivered in the morning, and return 3 copies of the Observer in the evening. Sad, but true.
3. Your newsagent doesn’t get as much choice as you think.
How do you think your newsagent makes sure there’s always 50 copies of the News of the World?
Well, it’s a combination of factors.
If you have 40 copies delivered every day, and return 37 copies, then in theory either you or the distributor notices, you have a discussion, and they stop sending you so many. That’s the theory.
In practice, the distributor sends you whatever they want (including occasional bizarre things – Northern Irish newspapers to the Westcountry? Oh yes). On a Sunday specifically, we used to get all manner of bizarre things, and despite me returning them every week, and never selling a copy of newspapers you wouldn’t expect to see outside of Scotland, they kept on coming. If I had been in charge, I’d have stopped wasting my time putting them out on the shelves. Sadly, I wasn’t.
So you can boycott the NOTW if you like, but the distributor will keep sending them anyway, hoping that in a month everyone will have forgotten about all this.
4. The people who buy the News of the World have chosen.
I used to work in a petrol station in the middle of nowhere. Every Sunday, a guy would come in to buy the NOTW, and he would regularly arrive before the newspapers did. Do you think he bought something else? No – he’d sit in his car, and wait for them to be delivered. If he had to wait more than 20-30minutes, he’d tell us he “couldn’t wait any longer” and leave.
But do you think he went home then? No. He went to another store to buy a copy.
Also, the people who buy the NOTW are the same people who buy The Sun. Given that The Sun is not currently mentioning the fact that their sister paper is being investigated by the authorities, I doubt they’ll know much about it. Sun/NOTW readers are not generally Twitter users, I would guess.
And lots of people (LOTS) buy the News of the World because it’s a scummy rag that is full of celebrity gossip-type shite. Surely the fact they’re being investigated for phone hacking makes them all the more exciting? I mean if you’re a reader and you’re OK with lapdancers selling their transcribes of recorded phone calls with married footballers, surely it’s not much of a leap to phone tapping/hacking?
5. Your newsagent knows the NOTW is full of shit.
If you have newspapers at 5:30am, you’ll have only a handful of customers until about 7-8am. What do you think we do during that time? We have a quick flick through the newspapers.
There’s really no need to tell your newsagent about how awful the tabloids are. They know already.
If you start reading a long story, you know you’ll get interrupted by a customer. Reading the Times or Guardian is impossible because they take up the whole counter when opened. You need something that is so dire, so shit, with a lot of pictures and such basic stories that you can read it without really paying attention. Enter, the News of the World, the Mirror, and if you get really desperate – the Star.
Most Sunday newspapers have inserts, and in the case of some papers (including the News Of The World), these are delivered on Saturday. At 4.30am, when nobody else is there, you can kill some time by having a flick through.
If you want to hit the NOTW where it hurts, go for the advertisers. But don’t feel the need to spam all your Twitter followers, by starting your message with the word “Dear”. Just contact @<advertiser> directly, and you might find they suspend their advertising, like The Co-Operative Group have just done.
Edit: 10th July 2011.
Well this story has grown/changed somewhat hasn’t it? What started off as a couple of advertisers pulling out, has ended up with the entire (very profitable) paper being discontinued by its owners. That said, because today’s is the last edition of the NOTW ever, they’ve apparently printed more copies than normal, and I’ve read reports on Twitter of people buying two – to keep one as a kind of souvenir. Ludicrous.
As I predicted above, I’ve heard reports and interviews with newsagents, saying it could be the end for their business. I’ve also heard vox pops on Radio4 this morning, from readers disappointingly buying their last copy (or two – one as a souvenir), and lamenting its passing.
The one thing I don’t agree with in all this, is that the NOTW is the paper of the common man. I went to a standard comprehensive, went to college in Swindon, and never went to university. And I wouldn’t dream of buying that shite. Though I’m a bad example as I don’t deliberately buy any paper. Every newspaper has about 95%, things I’m not interested in. Though it’s closer 100%, with the NOTW. And we all know it’s going to be relaunched as TheSunOnSunday in a couple of months. Get a grip, common men.