READERS of Britain's Leading Daily Broadsheet Newspapers Are Having to Dig a Little Deeper into Their Pockets

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READERS of Britains leading daily broadsheet newspapers are having to dig a little deeper into their pockets. Last month the Daily Telegraph, the largest-selling weekday and Saturday broadsheet title (with an average daily circulation of 1m copies), took the bold step of increasing its cover price by 5p to 55p.

The rise coincided with that of the much smaller (and more vulnerable) Independent, which matched the increase, then held its breath. Within a week, the result was clear: consumers had hardly noticed the increase; sales of both titles remained steady.

So steady, in fact, that Rupert Murdoch decided to call hostilities in the battle of the broadsheets, a battle he triggered in 1993 when he cut the price of the Times from 45p to 30p.

Murdoch successfully lifted the circulation of The Thunderer from 390,000 to 677,500; but the aggressive discount failed to overtake the Telegraph, a dream he has harboured since he bought Times Newspapers 20 years ago.

Last Monday, Murdoch increased the price of the Times by 5p, taking it back to where it was at the outbreak of a price war which is estimated to have taken more than pound sterling1bn (e1.6bn) out of the market in lost revenues.

Newsagents cash registers ker-chinked to the silvery tune of an additional 1.75m 5p coins hitting the tills; the rise will bring an additional pound sterling87,500 (e140,000) per day into a broadsheet market still reeling from the worst advertising recession in living memory.

That slump has left Britains broadsheet publishers battered and bruised. The question they are now asking is: will consumers balk at further rises? Probably not, if the rise is capped at a further 5p. Readers have enjoyed bigger, brighter newspapers at artificially low prices for the best part of a decade.

On Monday, those readers wanting to take in every opinion on the revelation that John Major had an adulterous affair before becoming prime minister could buy all four general news broadsheets for pound sterling2.05 (e3.26), roughly the same price they are happy to spend for a beaker of fancy coffee.

Anyway, readers that are turned away by a modest price increase are unlikely to be those that advertisers are seeking to reach. Newspapers are still dramatically under-priced and we have a long way to go until we get up to commercial prices, says Ivan Fallon, chief executive of Independent News & Media. …