Free thinking: ways to add value

A pioneering force in publishing, The Illustrated London News launched in 1842 as the world’s first illustrated newspaper. It was an instant hit and by 1848, it was selling 80,000 copies a week. Its success was down to the innovative ideas of its publisher, Herbert Ingram.

19 Jan 2015

by Samantha Robinson

Looking through the paper’s fascinating archives, owned and managed by ILN, you find that then, as now, newspapers and magazines were always on the lookout for ways to attract and retain readers.

Ingram’s initiatives included adding a campaigning voice to his newspaper, supporting popular campaigns for reform by such figures as Charles Dickens. He also managed several editorial scoops that saw sales increase, one of which was to print the designs for the Crystal Palace before they had even been seen by the royal family.

Ingram also sought ways to attract subscribers. Readers subscribing to the newspaper for at least six months were promised that “a copy of the splendid Colosseum Print of London will be presented” – an early free gift that proved extremely popular. He realised that adding value to his product, whether through free gifts, campaigns or scoops, would increase his paper’s popularity; at its peak The Illustrated London News was selling 200,000 copies a week.

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The Colosseum Print, given free to subscribers of The Illustrated London News in 1843

Today, magazines and newspapers can only dream of such sales, but the need to add value has not diminished. It is no longer enough to offer a free gift: modern publications need to be much more of a multi-media experience for their readers and publishers look at all sorts of new ways to offer their audiences an enhanced experience across print and digital.

Almost every print publication has a web presence, with varying degrees of success. Although completely different in content and format, the Guardian and Daily Mail newspaper websites, for example, are among the most popular in the world, offering readers free and unlimited access to news, features and comment.

But a web presence is just the tip of the modern iceberg and publications must look to other innovations to add value for readers and retain their custom. For example, magazines such as Elle and Red offer “shoppable” content, to enable readers to become buyers in a simple swipe, while others, such as Men’s Health, offer free apps to help readers achieve their fitness goals.

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Left: News Corp’s The Daily iPad app closed after two years in 2012. Right: Men’s Health offers added value with a host of extras, including its Fitness Trainer app.

Video, too, offers publishers – and advertisers – a range of possibilities. In a recent interview Grant Bremner, head of Future TV at Future publishing group, said: “We are a media company competing with likeminded media companies. Our competitors are now broadcasters, TV production companies and also the rising stars of YouTube.”

But the dash to digital can be fraught with difficulty. News Corporation put plenty of money and effort into making this publishing platform work with its The Daily iPad app, but it closed after just two years of operation after being unable to break even.

Whatever the innovation, quality is paramount, with media-savvy readers no longer fooled by, for example, tablet versions that are a sloppy and expensive afterthought, offering no added value. Back in the 1850s, Ingram made sure every part of his offering was a quality product, right down to the paper. He was so dissatisfied with that used to print The Illustrated London News that he started his own paper mill to produce the quality of paper he required.

Without having to go to such extremes, today’s publishers can still learn from Ingram’s innovative spirit.

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