OPINION13 July 2011

Closing down sales

Looking at the News of the World closure through the lens of behavioural economics.

After relentless and ongoing revelations about alleged bad behaviour, Rupert Murdoch’s son and News Corporation heir apparent James announced the closure last week of arguably its most treasured printed asset, the News of the World (NOTW).

The public at large, and most significantly NOTW’s advertisers, reacted as one.

They had finally had enough of the phone-hacking scandals linked to the paper’s newsroom – even if its current crop of reporters plead their innocence.

But despite the widespread outrage at the paper’s actions, its final edition went on to sell a record four million papers on Sunday, a 10-year high.

Why is this?

One factor at work here is the scarcity bias. This is where things become more desirable as they become less obtainable. Incredibly last editions of NOTW are already selling on eBay for £30 each.

A second factor is that by being the last edition ever, it made it socially acceptable to buy the paper again – something that had been socially unacceptable all week. Knowing our behaviour is within the social norm (however unconsciously) is vital to us acting in a certain way.

Finally, the NOTW effectively maximised one of its existing drivers of purchase – the fact that people do not want to miss out on something juicy. This is why even AB readers will regularly buy NOTW alongside a quality newspaper.

At least, they used to.



12 years ago

The thing that has interested me more from a behavioural economics perspective is the psychology of the people in the office of the NOTW at the time the hacking was going on. It would be highly unusual for one individual to take on the responsibility for hacking phones on their own, they are much more likely to have made that decision based on referencing of their social environment at the time. I suspect that hacking celebs phones came first under the guise of the ‘they use us so we use them’ argument put forward by the tabloids. In that context, taking the next step to hack the phone of a murder victim seemed a much easier decision to make than if they were the murder victim were the first person to be hacked. Time will tell but the psychology would suggest that the practice was likely to be wide spread than a single person working alone.

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12 years ago

What was interesting for me was how a highly charged emotional event - hacking Milly Dowler's phone - skewed the debate enormously. This acted as a heuristic. But alone it would not have been enough. It required the hatred of the left wing press to take advantage of this event. Basically it offered an opportunity to 'lead the public' to skewer NoW. The public debate was essentially led. If you like a herd mentality whipped up - the BBC had a major role to play in this.

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