LONDON (AdAge.com) -- A huge political scandal in the U.K. is proving a powerful demonstration that consumers will still pay for the printed word if the story is strong enough.
The Telegraph newspaper is estimated to have sold more than 600,000 extra copies in the past 10 days (its daily average is 817,000) thanks to a series of revelations about members of Parliament's expenses that have shocked and fascinated the nation with a detailed look at how the British government lives.
One MP claimed $3,400 in expenses to have a moat dredged and a piano tuned on his 13th-century estate; another claimed $25,000 to pay a mortgage that doesn't exist; another claimed $590 for horse manure; and yet another claimed $10 for pay-per-view pornography. The speaker of the House of Commons, who is supposed to keep the system in check, is the first speaker to be forced out of office since 1695.
The information about 646 MPs' expenses during the past five years was stolen from a classified computer, but police have said they are not going to investigate how the Telegraph obtained the data -- about 2 million documents -- because they don't believe it would be in the public's interest.
Free on the website
All the sordid details have been available free on the Telegraph's website, but its newspaper sales have nevertheless continued to rise throughout the ongoing publication of the scandalous details. The average upswing has been about 50,000 copies a day, easily covering the Telegraph's initial outlay, estimated to be between $47,000 and $350,000.
The Telegraph won't give out precise figures but confirmed that advertising revenue and traffic to the website have both increased substantially during this long-running story.
It wasn't just luck that brought the story into the Telegraph's lap; the newspaper was bold enough to publish information other publications turned down for fear of its repercussions. There is likely to be a long-term improvement in the Telegraph's brand value in addition to the short-term sales upswing.
Traditional media are still useful in getting big stories out there and causing sensations. Even Susan Boyle, who has been the subject of more Google searches than anyone or anything else in history -- including Barack Obama -- would not have found worldwide fame if she hadn't existed on good old-fashioned advertiser-funded TV in the first place.
The broadcaster of "Britain's Got Talent," ITV, failed to pick up revenue from the 100 million-plus people who flocked to YouTube to view the Scottish singing sensation, but ITV will be better prepared in the future and has achieved some benefit from Ms. Boyle's popularity. Her clip on ITV.com has had 1.5 million fully monetized views to date, and visits to the broadcaster's site are up 1,250% from last year.