Is NI's move toward direct relationships the right one?

News International is launching Times+, a loyalty scheme. The company says it is part of a move away from the traditional model of volume in favour of direct customer relationships.

YES - Nik Vyas, Strategic partnership director, Newcast, ZenithOptimedia
Volume is important, but it's just one dimension. The way Times+ is positioned, it will hopefully create a much deeper dialogue that enables readers to interact with the brand.
The skill will be in ensuring there's constantly enough on offer for members to feel the fee or subscription is worth paying.

Loyalty schemes will, for the foreseeable future, be complementary to the main revenue streams of advertising and cover price, but there are legitimate reasons to make them work.

If successful, they have the potential to lock in readers over a long period, increasing their lifetime value  and increasing NI's capacity to offer more integrated ad offerings.

Revenues are inevitably going to be small, but if these schemes provide us with access to distinct communities of interest and an array of techniques with which to engage them, that's got to be a good thing.

NO - Richard Addis, Managing director, Shakeup Media
Uh-oh: the marketing nerds have been let loose. NI's loyalty scheme will make absolutely no difference to its bottom line - in fact, it may well have a negative effect, since it will cost money to run and will certainly irritate loyalists.

Why? Because Times+ betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of why the paper is important to its readers. Being a Times reader means you are reasonably cultured and believe there is more to life than shopping. Times+ says you are a saddo who will organise your life around a free glass of Frexeinet or 10% off a camel-riding holiday.

Like the world's other great publishing contradiction - the FT's How To Spend It magazine - it is embarrassing; but unlike

How To Spend It, it will never make a bean. The Times is a mass market news-paper and should not be aiming to have a "direct relationship" with anyone, let alone a "customer".

YES - Jo Blake, Head of press, Arena BLM
Newspapers need to find other ways to engage their customers and retain them if they are to survive in the long term. While the concept of loyalty schemes such as Times+ is innovative, the freebie covermount has not built circulation or loyalty.

NI has already launched Culture+ with The Sunday Times, which has 150,000 free subscribers, so it not a totally new concept.

Magazines have always understood the benefits of the loyal reader and have generally been more pro-active in looking for ways to drive subscriptions. It was only a matter of time before newspapers jumped on the bandwagon.

I think this will deepen NI's relationship with readers, extending the everyday presence of the brand and providing a must-have product for consumers. That can only be a good thing for advertisers.

YES - Vanessa Clifford, Head of press, Mindshare
The most refreshing and forward-thinking element is NI referring to "customers". Like most newspapers it hasn't been in the business of customer relationship. Readers and circulation, yes, because big circulation equalled success. But is that the case anymore?

In a world with ever more channels vying for our time, expecting your brand name to be enough make people come back to you just isn't sufficient anymore, however big your brand.

NI's understanding that to move from a cold transaction relationship to one of having consumers means it needs to make them feel valued and understood, and rewarded for their loyalty. This marks a big step away from the old approach to the  numbers game, but ultimately a successful one

That said, building a more direct model doesn't mean it has to be at the expense of circulation and cover price. It is adding another dimension and one where a more engaged consumer should be of interest to advertisers.

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