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THE LAST POST?

25-04-2010

The papers

A mini weekly newspaper war broke out last week when the Trinity Mirror-owned Birmingham Post Lite was launched as a freebie spoiler against the part-paid, part-free newcomer, The Birmingham Press. But will the supposed defensive action actually end up doing more damage to its own parent paper, the paid-for Birmingham Post? Media expert Steve Dyson reports.

When I walked into my local newsagent at the end of last week, I was faced with an unprecedented choice of local papers to buy and read.

And, as you can see from the picture I snapped for this article, The Birmingham Press masthead and splash headline projected fairly well on the shelves against its weekly competitor, The Birmingham Post.

This was the scene at the majority of newsagents across the city, quickly telling potential readers that there is a new kid on the block, a product that many hundreds, if not thousands, will try.

But something was missing.

Unless you happened to be a resident of a well-off street in the suburbs of Edgbaston, Harborne or Moseley, you wouldn't have seen The Birmingham Post Lite, a free version of the main Post created in an attempt to compete, spoil and kill off the new Press.

So let's for a moment consider that you were one of those lucky residents, and that you had received the chunky Lite, complete with its bumper Property supplement, all free through your letterbox.

Imagine what you might then decide to buy in the newsagents.

The Press? Maybe, it's new and you might as well have a look, and it's only 50p. The Post? Not much of a chance really, not when you've already received a free version through your letterbox.

I really believe that in the three above-mentioned suburbs, all with plenty of prime Post-reading stock, Trinity's attempts to 'spoil' the new Press with the Lite will actually only result in stuffing the paid-for Post. A newspaper version of friendly fire.

That's not to knock the detailed local news efforts of editor Alun Thorne and his troops on the Lite; nor for that matter to be over-impressed with the fledgling and disparate attempts at the Press by editor Tony Lennox and his freelance contributors, (almost entirely made up of former Post and Mail journalists, by the way).

But I fear that the main loser in this battle could well end up being the Post, a product with an already delicate circulation which could be decimated or worse by the mistaken strategy of Trinity Mirror.

And I also worry that the losers could include a reduced-quality Birmingham Mail, robbed of its already stretched manpower to help produce more content for the Lite, an extra sister paper that the joint newsroom was just not staffed up to resource.

And the Press? Well, its incursion could end up being helped, not hindered, by the confused combat tactics of Trinity Mirror. Especially with the Press’s clever marketing tactics of occasional free delivery, tempting readers to buy it in the weeks it doesn’t arrive.

Surely a better plan for Trinity Mirror would have been to beef up the paid-for Post, and to do so with new resource that did not deplete the Mail?

Producing an even-better product to compete against an invader could have won the war; but diluting all products to produce a spoiler that only cannibalises sales risks, at best, a Dunkirk.

* Steve Dyson edited the Birmingham Mail from 2005 to the end of 2009. His detailed 'Dyson at Large' blog reviewing local newspapers will this week compare the Post Lite and the Press, and can be read at www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk from 7am Wednesday.

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