Every couple of months, the Centre for Information on Media (CIM) publishes a much-feared report about the paid circulation in Flanders.

Nowadays, at best, our news brands succeed in covering the losses of print with the increase in digital subscriptions. And this loss is mostly due to the freefall of newsstand sales.

Publishers killed the newsstands themselves by aggressively working the pool of single-copy buyers and selling them subscriptions. And, the habits of the Flemish have changed in the last couple of years: They stopped smoking and playing the lottery in large numbers, so there are no more visits where single copies are sold and no more cross-selling to be expected.

The number of outlets in Flanders had dropped dramatically, too. Single-copy sales decrease between 15% and 20% each year in this part of Europe. And this area is much like any other area.

I remember when I was working at the Flemish weekly HUMO, a TV satire was covering the tsunami of giveaways with the magazine. You don’t need to speak Dutch to get the message. 

That was only seven years ago. The well seems to have dried up since then. And yet, the daily De Standaard stubbornly refuses to throw in the towel and forget about newsstand promotions altogether.

Quite a large percentage of the marketing budget is spent on retail marketing, mainly going to promotional initiatives. We like to surprise readers with tickets to exhibitions and music concerts. We offer books that we sometimes edit ourselves and distribute with the newspaper — in the mailbox for subscribers and free to take with the newspaper at the newsstand. And this wouldn’t be Flanders if we didn’t occasionally offer free beer with the newspaper.

For many years already, Het Nieuwsblad has offered a free beer with the coastal edition during the summer. It is quite a success, with a considerable sales increase.

Print promotions can include a variety of giveaway products.
Print promotions can include a variety of giveaway products.

These promotions seem to pay off for De Standaard. The drop-in sales outperform the market year in and year out. Last year, our sales dropped about half of the country’s average.

And the newspaper succeeded in covering these losses with the increase of digital subs. We wouldn’t have done so without the effort of supporting retail sales. Although it becomes smaller and smaller each year, it remains an important channel and touchpoint for occasional readers.

The most recent De Standaard giveaway is for movie tickets.
The most recent De Standaard giveaway is for movie tickets.

De Standaard will soon be offering a free visit to the movies to its readers. They can go watch Le Fidèle, a long awaited and acclaimed Belgian feature film, and save approximately €9. We expect to double weekend sales with this promotion. Against all odds, I continue to see sense in this kind of marketing.