Sunday, 10 February 2008

Things That Baffle Me: #1, Free Wallcharts in Newspapers

I am a grown up. Not an especially mature one, but a grown up nonetheless, and enough that I occassionally buy a newspaper. Am I alone in being mystified when they try to reward me for this by giving me a free wallchart of British Birds, or Famous Aircraft, or British Wildflowers, or Endangered Animals? I repeat: I who buy your newspaper am a grown up.

To whom do the newspapers think a wallchart of British Wildflowers might appeal? Let's begin our analysis by considering the entire British population (I say British, for this seems to be mainly a habit of Her Majesty's press; we may name and shame The Independent and The Guardian as two of the more violent offenders).

Presumably the people of Britain can be divided into two sections: those who are reasonably interested in British Wildflowers, and those who are not. Let us charitably assume that the former is the larger group; the latter we will consider no further. Of those who are at least reasonably interested, we can define two further subgroups: those who are interested enough to want a permanent, readily-available reference guide to British Wildflowers, with pictures and descriptions, and those who are not. I suspect that by this point we are into a minority population, although presumably still sizeable enough, if it's at the right price.

But now the paring down truly commences. Of that group, how many of them want that guide to be attachable to their wall, as opposed to being, say, a book for the coffee table? I would hazard a guess, not quite so many. And then we stray into the territory of the truly tiny subcategory: those who are interested in British Wildflowers to the extent that they would like a wallchart of the same, and who do not already own one. In other words, the not-just-nerdy-but-also-stingy.

And to this group cater the newspapers. How did they ever reach this decision? Was there a meeting somewhere at the head offices, where the guy in charge said "We're not shifting enough papers. How can we sell more with minimal effort and no expense?" and some bloke in Marketing said "I know! We'll find a specialist topic, in which a few people will have a passing interest, and we'll make a wallchart about it! People will flock to buy it!".

Of course, other suggestions have been tried: there are the interminable badly-produced DVDs of Hitchcock films and kids' shows. There are the coupons to save up to be redeemed (with £1.99) for a book ("worth £5.99!") at a shop which only has one branch in all of the North of Ireland (cost of book: £1.99 + 5 tokens which each cost 70p 'cos you have to buy the newspaper, plus 50p every day 'cos you can't resist a Dairy Milk once you get to the counter, plus £6.50 for the bus fare to and from Belfast to actually redeem said coupons, plus £3.50 for lunch and £75 for clothes because once you got into Belfast you thought you might as well make a day of it - total cost of book = £92.99. Unless you get there and discover you have one token less than you need, in which case you can leave off the £1.99 but you don't get the book. This is of little consequence since you realise afterwards that it's a kids' book and you read it for English class in first form.). There is a range of half-price tickets for admission to places in England; this works much in the same way as the book, except that it's much more expensive.

I don't want to be entirely cynical, though, because I have come across a few good free things in newspapers in my time. I'm a bit of a sucker for pull-out puzzle sections, for instance. Occassionally the DVD is worth having. Sometimes there are little recipe books, which tend to be a bit on the exotic side, but at least impress my parents (mind you, the last one I got was all about mushrooms: All The Different Types Of Mushroom You Can Get In Britain, And What To Do With Them. Come to think of it, maybe it was a wallchart folded up). A few weeks ago I ordered a Pilates DVD from The Times, for just the price of Postage and Packing. It arrived yesterday, but I haven't had time to try it yet. I suspect the results will not be good, but to be fair to The Times, they can't be blamed for sending it to Officially The Most Unbendy Person In The World, so I think I should not blame them entirely (I will of course let you know how it goes). And just yesterday, I got a free guide to The Origin of Species, which even includes an introduction from everyone's favourite scientist, Professor Dawkins.

So it is not all bad in the world of newspaper giveaways, but mostly it's not that great either, when you stand back and take a good long look at it.

1 comment: said...

The Irish Times has a great line in wallcharts, one of which (the New Europe chart of all the countries joining the EU in 2004) was so unexpectedly popular that they had to order a complete second print run. I've seen it in shop windows, office cubicles and (I am forced to admit) above my computer desk in the spare bedroom.