Tuesday 11 August 2015

Daily Express business model: selling prejudice and bigotry?

• Imagine Richard Desmond, owner of the Daily Express, pitching his business to the Dragons' Den

Imagine an imaginary scene in Dragons' Den, the popular BBC TV programme where millionaires decide if they'd like to invest in the business plans of 'wannabe' entrepreneurs.

And here comes Richard Desmond into the Den with an investment opportunity for his newspaper called the Daily Express"So what’s your idea, Richard?" asks one of the Dragons.

“Well,” said Richard. "This newspaper I’ve acquired has a brilliant reputation for selling scandals and gossip.

"It’s been going since 1900 and even the Royal Family hate it.  Prince Philip described it as, ‘a bloody awful newspaper, full of lies, scandal and imagination.’  And the previous owner, Lord Beaverbrook, told a Royal Commission into the press that he ran the paper ‘purely for the purpose of making propaganda’.”

Pipped in one of the Dragons, “A newspaper selling propaganda that the Royal Family hates. Is that a real business proposition?
• Today's Daily Express: demeaning to refugees

“Oh yes,” replied Richard.  “In its heyday, back in the 1930s, the Daily Express was one of the world’s highest circulation newspapers.  Its readership has declined since then, but I reckon it’s a great business opportunity.”

Another Dragon looked up.  “So how much did you pay for the paper, Richard?”

“Oh, just £125 million,” he replied.

One of the other Dragons spluttered on his drink.  “I think you were done mate,” he laughed. “I bought the paper only yesterday for 55p!”

Everyone in the den laughs, somewhat nervously.

Time for one of the lady Dragons to chip in. “That’s an awful lot of dough you paid for the paper, if you don’t mind me saying, Richard.  Where on earth did you get the money?”

“Oh I’ve been quite successful in the past,” replied Richard.  “Yeah, I’ve made some good money for example selling pornographic magazines.”

“Any ones we might know?” asked a Dragon, with a twinkle in his eye.

“Well, there’s ‘Asian Babes’ and ‘Big Ones’,” replied Richard.

“Never heard of them,” said a Dragon.  “Do you have any copies we could see?”

“Oh, I sold those magazines but I do still own Television X and Red Hot TV if you’re interested in pornography?”

Er no, no, muttered all the Dragons in a quiet but embarrassed whisper.

One of the Dragons broke the silence. “So let’s get to the chase, Richard.  What’s your big idea for this business of yours, the Daily Express?” 

“Well there’s a market in the UK for selling prejudice and bigotry. Stories that appeal to peoples myopic view of the world, even if those stories aren’t necessarily exactly true or truthful.”

“Give us examples, Richard.”

“Well,” responded Richard, his eyes glistening. 

“Stories for example that show migrants and asylum seekers in a really bad light.  Our readers are proudly British and really don’t like foreigners.  So our stories excel at pandering to that prejudice.  

“And we’ve discovered this niche in the market that really hates the EU.  So we will do stories saying how awful the European Union is. It doesn’t really matter if the stories are accurate or not, that’s not our business mission.  The point is that our customers love to buy stories that confirm their view of the world.”

“But can you really sell stories based just on disliking foreigners and the EU?” asked a Dragon, looking a little incredulous.

“Oh, well we do other stories that also appeal to this particular market segment and customer base,” continued Richard, the Dragons looking on, appreciative of his use of business jargon and terminology not often expressed in the Den by those seeking investment funds. 

“A lot of our customers are elderly, so that means many of them are ill with all sorts of illnesses, but especially cancer and dementia.  So, we will run front-page exclusive stories announcing a new miraculous cure for say cancer or Alzheimers disease.  The readers love it.”

“Goodness,” gasped one of the Dragons.  “So there’s really new super cures for cancer and Alzheimer's disease?”

Richard laughed.  “Oh not really,” he replied. 

“Most of these so-called cures have only ever been trialed on animals or haven’t gone beyond stage one or two testing. Chances are none of them will ever pass final safety or efficacy tests and even those that do will take at least ten years.  But it gives our readers hope, even if it’s a false hope, and that’s what they want to buy.  Really doesn’t matter how true the story is, does it?”

“Well I guess on that basis,” responded another Dragon, “most of your elderly readers will be dead before they get to see these cures, assuming any of them actually turn out to work!”

Richard closed his eyes and momentarily bowed his head.

“Numbers Richard, we need numbers,” chirped yet another Dragon, tapping his pen on his chair.  “What’s your circulation?  Turnover?  Profit?  Come on, we need to know!"

“Well the Daily Express has a circulation almost reaching half a million,” replied Richard. “We made a loss in 2012, but in 2013 we turned it around and got into profit with our business model.”

“I’m getting a bit annoyed,” said a Dragon. “We want numbers, not words!”

“Ok,” said Richard. “Well in 2013 our group turnover was £621 million.  And we made a net profit for the year of almost £26 million.”

All the Dragons rolled backwards on their chairs and hit their heads on the floor.  One of them, rubbing his head but with his feet still in the air, commented with awe, “So there’s real money to be made in selling this gossip and bigotry? Who’s your main rival?”

“Oh well that’d be the Daily Mail,” replied Richard, looking down on all the Dragons now sprawled on the floor.

Perked up one of the Dragons, “And they have the same business model? Selling stories that aren’t necessarily completely true, but appealing to peoples’ prejudices?”

“Sort of,” replied Richard. “But they’re more successful and the Mail Online is the world’s biggest online newspaper, with almost 200 million readers each month right across the planet.  Their business group has a revenue almost £2 billion.  Gives me hope though, and something to aspire to.”

“Goodness,” said one of the Dragons, as they all gingerly picked themselves up from the floor and sat down again.  “There really is big money in selling stories appealing to peoples’ prejudices.  So, Richard, how much do you want from us for a share in your amazing business selling gossip and bigotry?”

“Oh, well I don’t really need your money,” replied Richard. “I’m already one of Britain’s richest men with a net worth of £1.2 billion.  I just came for a laugh really.  Love your programme, wanted to see you all in person!”

The Dragons all fell over again. “You’re richer than me!” gasped one of the Dragons.  “Me too!” groaned another.

*Richard Desmond's company, Northern & Shell, bought Express Newspapers in 2000. It's been reported that newspaper publishers, Trinity Mirror, is negotiating to acquire the Daily Express in a deal that might be completed by the end of 2015.

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