Well, it makes a change from DVDs in stupid cardboard sleeves
The Guardian are giving away free wallcharts again. I was suspicious of the first batch in May. The actual charts themselves seemed oddly reprinted and murky, and the garden birds one featured birds that are simply not common to British gardens (the linnet anyone?), while missing some really obvious ones out (where was my lovely nuthatch?). This, it turned out, is because the charts are produced by a Danish company, and make no claims to be about British anything. Clearly, the Guardian have done some kind of deal with The Scandinavian Fishing Yearbook (the curious name of the company – they started out producing just that in 1955, but moved into educational wallcharts and lithographs, now CD-ROMs) – the newspaper get the free gifts, the company get a free plug. I can mither all I like – and I’m about to – but it worked. The Guardian was the only quality daily to increase both its month-on-month and year-on-year circulation in “a steady market” in May. They shifted 381,188 copies a day, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (a “month-on-month” rise of 1.76% – oh how such figures suck the life out of me: a grim flashback to the days at Q when I had to worry myself sick about such pathetic increments). During the week of the wallchart giveaway, sales were up by 130,000 in total, which averaged out at an extra 3,000 copies a day across the month. Hence: batch two.
Guess what, today’s wallchart, Birds of Sea and Shore, is no better than the garden birds one. The illustrations still look like they’ve been colour-photocopied (unless the originals are just as washed-out, in which case, good luck if you’re thinking of sending off and paying nine-Euros-plus-shipping for one) and the spread of birds is skewed towards the Arctic.
There’s no Lapwing, one of our most common waders. No Canada goose, again one of our most common geese. They’ve spelt Greylag as Grey lag (clearly the poster was not subbed by a birdwatcher). The Pochard pictured is a speckled-looking female (good luck spotting the more distinct adult male, with its beautiful chestnut brown head and pale back and flanks). The only breed of swan is the Whooper swan. The only Eider is the Steller’s eider, found in … Scandinavia (no sign of, say, the Common eider – clue’s in the name). The Long-tailed duck, the Velvet scoter, the White-fronted goose, all breed in the tundra or the Baltic. And if there’s one thing anyone who’s seen the super-common Mallard will tell you, is that it has a rich, velvety green head; not on this wallchart, where it looks black. Not much sign of the green head of the male Shoveler either. Green is obviously a very tricky colour to reproduce. (I know I’m nitpicking. I enjoy it. If you feel my nitpicking is in any way inaccurate, please nitpick back. We could start a nitpicking club.)
Still, it makes a change from free DVDs in stupid cardboard covers. There’s no such thing as a free anything. If somebody’s giving it to you, it’s not free. There’s a catch. In this case, it’s a clever way of making you “sample” (that’s what the marketing people say) a newspaper you presumably don’t usually buy. Now, I happen to think that the Guardian is a very good newspaper, the best in fact, but I wish it didn’t have to play the dirty game of free gifts. Shouldn’t the quality of the journalism and comment be enough? (I know, what a happy bubble I live in.) At the end of the day, these wallcharts are not much good. They’re dated-looking, geographically irrelevent and muddy. But, hey, say the Guardian, they’re free! So stop complaining!
A disclaimer now appears on the charts, which I don’t believe was there the last time: “This is a selection of species and not a definitive collection. It may include species that are not or no longer indigenous to Britain.” I hope the schoolchildren read that when it gets blu-tacked up in the classroom.