Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Free Press

Today's theme, judging by the number of postings and articles, is the free -- as in no cost to the reader -- press. Time to take note, fellow reporters and editors. You might be working for one in the future.

Start with and its review of the growth of free newspapers in most major metro areas. Author Zachary Seward says it's still unclear whether the advertiser-supported sheets make money. At Tribune's am New York, publisher Russell Pergament says it has had "a handful" of profitable months. Another (unidentified) person told Seward those were more like "breaking even."

But the paper has more than doubled its ad pages to 48 in two years. Its circulation has also pulled ahead of Metro, which Seward says was losing more than $1 million a month in the first three months of the year and, according to his source, continues to lose money. But ad sales are up 50 percent.

Media Buyer Planner picks up and focuses on another factoid from Seward's work: am New York's circulation, at 318,000, is greater than that of the the New York Times and the Daily News in the city. That's an important qualifier, however, since much of New York's population -- and with it those spendable dollars -- is not "in" the city. According to MBP, am New York says 62 percent of its readers don't buy pay dailies. It's possible. That would be 197,000, a small slice of even the city's adult population that reads papers (though one I'm sure the Times, the News and the Post wouldn't mind having). But let's take that one with a grain of salt for now ...

Then comes word from Raymond Snoddy across the pond that a free London Business Daily is in the works to challenge the venerable Financial Times. He notes:
The greatest threat Muncaster could face would be a slimmed-down, free version of the FT designed to blow it out of the water before it can even launch. It is possible, but unlikely. The FT has always maintained its course like a stately galleon, disdainful of minnows trying to nibble at its edges. ...But no one is immune to competition these days ...
The importance of free papers is a lesson learned long ago by local and regional newspapers. They countered the threat of competition by joining in. Perhaps it's a lesson that will also have to be learned one day by some of the grander national dailies. After all, London's Evening Standard has managed to add more than 75,000 copies with its high-risk lunchtime giveaways.
He's talking about the U.K. but just as easily might be talking about future years in the U.S. Sure, we've had free papers for years, but forget the ad sheets or classified papers or even the good alt weeklies. Free daily competition introduces a new level of urgency to the game. Right now, free dailies won't be a factor in a lot of cities because the mass transit commuter traffic isn't there and the walk from parking to office (and thus the opportunity to pass a freebie's box) isn't as graat. But the energy situation is gradually turning, too. So watch for potential developments in energy prices that begin to force people to look at alternatives also to open up new opportunities for free papers during the next decade.

Finally, the Miami Herald treats us to an "only in South Florida" story -- the Miami-Dade Commission is spending $36,000 to produce its own 50,000-circulation free paper, The Chamber. Throw in $10,000 more to translate it to Spanish and Creole. Of course, nary a bad thing will be said about the commission. Apparently there's a power struggle at County Hall between the mayor and the commissioners, and they decided print was the best way to tell their story.

Who says the newspaper is dying?


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