This twitter exchange, between the Evening Standard’s Rosamund Urwin and the FT’s Duncan Robinson, just caught my eye.
Urwin has written a piece detailing her objections. Lots of people agree with her; over 100,000 have now signed the Change.org petition.
The problem, as Robinson notes, is that few – if any – of those people buy the Sun. Nor is it likely that page 3 activists will start buying the tabloid if the daily feature is scrapped. The campaigners – mostly, if not entirely, female, left-wing and with university aspirations or degrees – just aren’t their market.
That’s the conclusion David Dinsmore, the new Sun editor, has reached in any case. He told BBC Radio 5 live on Monday that “We did a survey last year and found that two thirds of our readers wanted to keep Page 3. What you find is people who are against Page 3 have never read the Sun and would never read the Sun.”
Urwin, if you accept her arguments (which I mostly do), is right about the insidious effects of page 3. But Robinson is also right that the campaign is undermined by its lack of commercial leverage.
Despite a new editor reaffirming a commitment to page 3, I think they’re two good reasons why itwill probably be gone within a decade.
1. The logic of Dinsmore’s position implies that however much the public detests page 3, the paper’s content is solely a function of its readers’ preferences. But as the public’s revulsion develops and hardens, even whilst Sun readers remain staunch fans, the Sun will start getting hurt. If the public, including elites, start to understand the Sun as essentially smut then it will be taken less seriously as a newspaper: journalists will leave it for rival publications, politicians won’t grant it interviews and its general influence in Westminster will deteriorate. At that point Dinsmore, not to mention Murdoch, may start to reconsider how lucrative page 3 really is.
2. For commercial reasons alone the argument for keeping page 3 has already weakened drastically. When you can now access soft porn on a mobile phone, as and when you wish, the feature is no longer exclusive, sensational or even that tittilating compared to what else is available online. At a guess I’d say the circulation fall from ditching page 3 would be really quite small as a result; Sun readers may enjoy page 3, but for most of them I doubt it’s the main reason they pick up the paper.