Sunday, August 13, 2006

Free dailies profitable, Singleton isn't


One of the startling quotes in the San Francisco Chronicle story about the new free daily in Eureka, Calif. (see above) is the claim by MediaNews CEO Dean Singleton that "No free daily in America has ever made a profit."

He's wrong, of course. He's either misinformed or hates the concept of free dailies so much that he's willing to misstate the facts.

Free dailies have been around for decades, and they've been making money. Singleton, whose office is in Denver, doesn't have to go far to find money-makers. They're in Vail, Aspen and Summit County, Colorado. Swift Newspapers of Reno, Nev., which owns more free dailies than anyone, is making money and has just added a new free daily in South Lake Tahoe.

And Singleton has just acquired a group of six free dailies in the San Francisco Bay Area, the flagship being the Palo Alto Daily News, which was profitable nine months after it started in 1995. It was so successful that the Knight Ridder chain bought it last year because it was cutting into the sales of KR's San Jose Mercury News. If the Palo Alto paper wasn't profitable, one must ask where they got the money to keep it going for 10 years. Knight Ridder purchased the Palo Alto Daily News Group in 2005. No word on whether it remained profitable after Knight Ridder got its hands on it. Singleton is now buying Knight Ridder's papers in Northern California including the Palo Alto group.

Now it is true that Phil Anschutz, owner of the San Francisco Examiner and Washington Examiner, hasn't made money with his conservative dailies, but, as a billionaire, he probably doesn't care. On the other hand, Singleton's MediaNews was the only major American newspaper chain to lose money in the first quarter of 2006.