Last Saturday the Times raised its cover price to 90 pence, which is what the Daily Telegraph sells for on that day. On Monday it went up to 50 pence, pricing the paper at only 5 pence less than the Guardian and Telegraph. Thus ends the price war between quality newspapers which began ten years ago almost to the day, on 6 September 1993.
At that time Rupert Murdoch did something that most people thought was mad. He reduced the price of the Times from 45 pence to 30 pence. The general view was that buyers of quality papers did not care overmuch about the price they paid. Writing in the London Evening Standard, where this column then resided, I doubted that the price cut would lead to an increase in sales. How wrong I was. Within little more than a year, the circulation of the Times had risen from about 360,000 to 500,000, and was still going up. By November 1996 the paper was selling 860,000 copies a day. It did not seem that it would be long before it reached one million.
At that time I was writing a column for the Daily Telegraph, and I do not think I am revealing any state secrets by recalling that the widespread view on the paper in those days was that the Times would soon be breathing down the Telegraph’s neck. Murdoch had famously told Sir David English that he envisaged a Britain where the only national newspapers were the Sun and the Times (both owned by him) and the Daily Mail (of which Sir David was then editor-in-chief). If it seemed a piece of megalomania on Murdoch’s part to imagine a world without the Daily Telegraph, for a time it did not seem fanciful to imagine that the Times would end up by being the highest-selling broadsheet.
The Telegraph’s management was stunned by the price war, and for a time resisted the temptation to reduce the paper’s cover price.