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Thursday, 24 December 2009

Lesson 8: Marketing and exchange

We have already seen how software is being used to market The Guardian’s content through APIs, and the ways the printed newspaper acts as an advert for online services. But The Guardian
also uses other traditional media to advertise its newspaper and website, including some innovative TV adverts. In common with other national newspapers, it also offers discounted subscription schemes and often runs promotions to give the newspaper away to university students as a way of encouraging a lifelong Guardian habit. Free copies are a great incentive, and cutting across issues of distribution, exchange and audience consumption, is the issue of ‘bulks’. These are large orders of heavily discounted copies of the printed paper, typically sold to airlines and hotels to be given away to their customers. This year has seen The Guardian break with another tradition in this respect, as it announced it would become the first national quality daily to scrap distribution of all its bulks. MediaWeek reported that Guardian News and Media claimed the
move would ‘increase transparency across the newspaper industry’ – the implication being that its rivals inflate their circulation figures through the use of bulk orders. We might wonder whether the move to scrap bulks was linked with the industrial action and redundancies at The Guardian Print Centre; though as the MediaWeek article pointed out, bulks represent a much smaller percentage of total circulation for The Guardian than for many of its rivals.

Identifying the precise point of ‘exchange’ between publisher and reader is interesting in the case of newspapers as they run parallel online and printed content. An online reader might have seen a headline on the website encouraging them to buy the print edition, or have been encouraged to go online by an advert seen in the print version. And with subscription models to consider, how might exchange be usefully understood? For example, an online reader might be sent email content or be paying for access to subscription only content, even when they neglect to check their emails or use the site. Of course, buying a printed newspaper doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll read it either, so any discussion of ‘exchange’ must be complicated as we distinguish between the physical product and its content. The transaction between publisher and consumer, of this product and its content is further complicated when we look again at the issue of APIs and their role in distributing content through other media.

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