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Nov 20, 2017

The Daily Tele’s grumpy old man shtick is kind of working

The Daily Telegraph's "analogue meme" Al Bundy reaction to the postal survey speaks as much about News Corp's ailing health as it does about the company's stance on marriage equality.

The now notorious Daily Telegraph front page response to the same sex marriage vote last week tells us everything we need to know about News Corp’s strategy in managing down the paper’s structural decline – and how it will end.

The admission by Rupert Murdoch at the company’s annual general meeting in the United States later that same day that all bar the company’s national papers are struggling gives us an idea of how successful their strategy is. (Hint: it isn’t.)

Every other paper embraced the public Yes with some version of its own “Yes”, including both The Sydney Morning Herald (“YES”) and The Australian (NATION SAYS YES). The Daily Telegraph went for the seemingly bizarre: “NOW WE CAN ALL SHARE THE JOY” printed over a full page still of Married…with Children’s morose husband Al Bundy.

The front page Sharri Markson story tried to explain the joke with her opening par: “Every Australian will get to enjoy the wonders of marriage after a majority of voters in every state delivered a resounding verdict in favour of same-sex unions yesterday.”

The next day in her column, Markson tried again under the heading: “Seriously, some people just can’t take a joke.” Apparently, she wrote: “The Daily Telegraph’s font page yesterday was a work of creative genius.”

Now, if you have to explain a joke not once, but twice, you should probably rethink the joke.

But doubling down is the Murdoch house style.

That’s why the Al Bundy front page should be understood as a feature. Not a bug.

It was a clear statement that the Tele intends to go down with its readers. The Tele’s target demographic can be summed up as: old, white, men. The psychographic? Grumpy!

This is not about attitudes to marriage equality itself. In fact, such analysis as there’s been of the No vote in Sydney would indicate that it wasn’t driven by the Tele demographic. Rather, it was driven by groups who don’t engage with traditional media at all, although that’s another story.

The conversion of the Tele’s front page to an analogue meme for its audience of grumpy old men is based on understanding how the Tele keeps its readers coming back.

Sure, Married…with Children may date you to the 1980s (and been almost deliberately retro even then) but it’s a deliberate back-dating for the Tele’s market.

And it’s a target that’s working for them — in a kinda-sorta way. The Tele is sliding, but, according to the most recent audit figures, it’s sliding less than, say, the SMH and less than its sister paper, the Herald-Sun. It even stands up globally with circulation not that different from the New York tabloids, the Post and the Daily News.

We can make too much of individual year-on-year figures and the two Sydney papers have never really competed for the same market. Still, the gap between them now is extraordinary – Monday to Friday Tele circulation is almost triple the SMH

There’s a fair bit of what economists would call elasticity of demand going on here. The SMH has a cover price of $3. The Tele? $1.60. More people will hand over $1.60 than $3. But there’s more profit (or, more like, higher partial cost recovery) per issue from $3 than for the Tele’s $.160.

But if the Tele circulation is holding up better than others, why does Murdoch acknowledge that it’s struggling? Because it’s not about circulation. It’s about revenues.

The lower cover price would suggest that the company is losing money on every issue it prints. That’s why Fairfax has traded lower circulation for a higher cover price.

And the Tele’s aging print demographic is not that attractive to advertisers. Most days of the week, it gets by with a handful of displays and about three pages of classifieds – one of those pages for “adult services”.

The success of their analogue strategy each day doesn’t translate to digital. In fact, doubling down on the demographic in print hurts them in digital. Grumpy, old men may have liked the Al Bundy cover or the dismissal of Labor’s Bennelong candidate Kristina Keneally the day before as “Bill’s Girl”.

But it part mystifies and part repels just about everyone else.


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8 thoughts on “The Daily Tele’s grumpy old man shtick is kind of working

  1. brian crooks

    any business that only caters for one percent of the public is doomed to die, RI.P the un australian and the daily smellagraphand hopefully ruthless rupert mudrake

  2. Aethelstan

    The Daily Telegraph is a rabid conservative propaganda sheet … nothing much more …

  3. David Hardy

    Crikey wrote :
    “The Tele’s target demographic can be summed up as: old, white, men. The psychographic? Grumpy! ”

    Strange that immediately brings to mind Grumpy old Dinosaurs from a past era still fighting long lost wars – like John Howard, Kevin Andrews, Eric Abetz and Co .

    David Hardy, Geelong

  4. klewso

    Pffft! All in the Family – Rupert’s.

  5. MAC TEZ

    As I’ve mentioned here before,this is so very far from the Smell-o-graph’s worst efforts.

  6. AR

    Serially married with dead eyed children, slavering to nail down his coffin lid.

  7. Arky

    I’ve always thought Fairfax circulation slides faster not only because of the cover price but because they don’t know their audience. Fairfax bosses have insisted on chasing News Corp’s audience, and turned off the centrist and left-wing readers who have traditionally read The Age and the SMH because they can’t stand the News propaganda rags.

    I know plenty of people who cut the cord on Fairfax subscriptions during the days of Michelle Grattan’s venomous anti-Gillard vendetta and the selling of Tony Abbott as a new man and worthy PM material, and still more who have given up in the years since. They mostly rely on the Guardian, on Crikey, on the ABC and social media now.

  8. brian crooks

    news crap is like a patient on life support threatening to hit the nurse with his walking frame that he can`t quite reach, R.I.P news crap, now on life support, will probably die before rupert.

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