Friday, October 27, 2006

SF Examiner owner may open 2nd free daily

We're not sure what to make of this, but the owner of the free tabloid San Francisco Examiner, billionaire oilman Phil Anschutz (pictured), reportedly wants to open a second free daily in the city by the bay. Apparently this new free daily, which would be called the City Star, is designed to compete against the San Francisco Daily (or SF Daily) which started almost six months ago. The SF Daily has taken off like a rocket, going from eight to 24 pages per day. In the most recent issue, we counted 125 ads, more than double that of the Examiner, though the Examiner has more pages. A story in the SF Daily quotes the Examiner editor as confirming Anschutz's plans for the new paper sometime before year's end.

It is not clear why the Examiner, which itself is a free daily, is starting a second free daily. One rumor is that Anschutz plans to build up City Star and then close the Examiner, which has never been very strong in terms of advertising or news since Hearst Corp. sold it in 2000. If the plan is to have the City Star charge less for ads, in order to compete with the SF Daily, one wonders how the Examiner will keep its current advertisers from leaving for the new paper. Then again, with a net worth of $7 billion, maybe Anschutz doesn't care.

Free papers blamed for subway flooding

The concept of free daily newspapers is under attack in New York by the government agency that runs the subways and the paid newspapers that are losing circulation to the freebies. The controversy dates back to Sept. 8, 2004 when the Metropolitan Transit Authority's subways flooded during a torrential storm. The MTA's inspector general issued a report blaming the MTA for "historic neglect" of valves that would have cleared the water away. But MTA's management refused to accept the blame and instead said flooding was the fault of free newspaper publishers, who have hawkers who distribute the papers on subway platforms. As the Gothamist put it, "It's awesomely convenient how the MTA board finds the time and money to conduct another report to say it wasn't the MTA's fault -- it was the free newspapers."

It didn't take long for the paid newspapers to chime in, such as the New York Post, which suggests that the police ought to be used to control free newspaper hawkers. Some excerpts:
    "Next time your subway line is shut down because of massive flooding, or you're stuck on a train in a dark tunnel for an hour or more because there's a fire on the tracks, you'll know who to blame." ...

    "The publishers of the freebies don't obey the rules, and the NYPD refuses to enforce them - out of wholly unwarranted First Amendment concerns. The freebie hawkers can legally give out their copies, provided they remain outside the subway stations and don't leave piles of papers unattended. But aggressive hawkers flagrantly break those rules: They go down into the stations by the turnstiles, or even onto the platforms."
At least the Post admits that it is not a "disinterested party in this affair. The free papers, after all, compete for readers and advertisers with the one you're reading right now." And that admission explains the purpose of the editorial.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Free daily takes hold in Santa Barbara

A free daily in Santa Barbara, Calif., appears to be taking hold partially because the town's incumbent daily is self-destructing. The San Francisco Chronicle reports today (Oct. 24) on the new Santa Barbara Daily Sound, which was founded and is edited by Jeramy Gordon, 24 (third from left in photo). Gordon cut his teeth at the Palo Alto (Calif.) Daily News, perhaps the nation's most successful free daily newspaper. After the Palo Alto paper was acquired by Knight Ridder, Gordon headed to Santa Barbara to set up his own paper. A few months later, lightning struck. Much of the staff of the 100-year-old-plus Santa Barbara Free-Press walked out in a dispute with owner Wendy McCaw over such things as whether to print the address of actor Rob Lowe.

Here's a portion of today's Chronicle article:
    "When we started, everyone said, 'It's not going to work. This town doesn't need another paper,' " said Gordon. "Well, I hate to give Wendy McCaw credit for the success of this paper, but we definitely had a bump in circulation and advertising because of them."

    Gordon said his paper, a 16-page tabloid available at coffee shops and strip malls, has been flying off the racks and advertising is up since its first publication in March. The daily printing run has already risen to 5,000 -- 6,000 on Fridays -- from 3,000. That could double next year. Advertisers, some of them turned off by the turmoil at the News-Press, have noticed.

    "They've done a great job and they're getting a lot of attention," said Nikki Ayers, who runs Ayers Automotive Repair and recently started advertising in the Daily Sound after having dropped the News-Press.

    People involved in the media -- including some who have tried to chip away at the News-Press in the past -- said that when the Daily Sound opened, it wasn't so much criticized as ignored. Looking a little like a competently produced college newspaper, few knew what it was, or cared. No longer.

    "Instant geniuses," said Nick Welsh, executive editor of an alternative weekly, the Santa Barbara Independent, which has also seen an increase in advertising. "Nobody looked at them for a while, but I think they do an impressive job. They are credible, and this mess has made a lot more people take notice."

    Those observations were echoed by William Macfadyen, the vice chairman of the Chamber of Commerce in Goleta, just north of Santa Barbara, a News-Press editor a number of years ago and founder of a newspaper that tried and failed to make a go of it in the area recently, the South Coast Beacon.

    "He was sort of clueless at first," Macfadyen said of Gordon. "But I think he's done a good job of taking advantage of the situation without being in anyone's face about it."

    Gordon agreed, saying he understood little about the area at first, and he acknowledged that his paper's homey touches meant its coverage was basic rather than path breaking. But he added that the worse the problems at the News-Press, the more welcome he felt.

    "The advertisers are willing to look at us now," said Gordon.
PHOTO -- Daily Sound staffers (from left) Charles Swegles, Janelle Holcombe and Jeramy Gordon, and consultant Kristina Thorpe, at work. Photo by Elisa Miller, special to the Chronicle.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Metro Ottawa appoints new publisher

Dave Kruse, advertising manager at the Winnipeg Sun for the past eight years, has been named publisher of the free daily Metro Ottawa. Prior to his arrival at the Winnipeg paper, he played pivotal roles at both Mediacom/Gannett, the Province of Manitoba, BBDO and Warehouse One. He will report to Metro Canada Publisher Bill McDonald. Metro is published in Ottawa by Greenfield Newspapers Inc., a partnership of the Torstar Corporation, CanWest and Metro International.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

How are the Examiners staying alive?

We were going to write about Rupert Murdoch's entry into the Washington, D.C., newspaper market with his decision to begin home delivery of the New York Post in the DC suburbs. It's a good bet the Post will find readers in D.C. like it has in Florida, where transplanted New Yorkers or those hungry for a conservative tabloid have devoured the Post.

But what struck us in D.C. is how the existing conservative tabloid, the Examiner, seems to be dying -- or at least not growing since it started on Feb. 1, 2005.

We grabbed the Friday, Oct. 6, Examiner. It was only 40 pages and 18 pages had no advertising whatsoever. The Examiner only had 22 display (non-classified) ads, and five of them were for movies. Owner Phil Anschutz owns a national chain of movie theaters, so it is likely the five movie ads were gifts from his own chain or its vendors rather than real ads.

The same problem seems to be afflicting Anschutz's other two papers, the Examiners in San Francisco and Baltimore. Maybe it's the format or the distribution method (thrown on doorsteps whether or not the owner wants it), but these papers do not appear healthy.

Contrast that with the paid circulation of the Washington Times (100,000 per day), which is packed with ads and has an influence on the national scene. When the Washington Times called for House Speaker Dennis Hastert to resign, everybody was talking about that paper.

That's the kind of influence Anschutz probably wanted when he bought his first Examiner. Anybody want to start making bets as to when Anschutz pulls the plug?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Fifth free daiy hits streets of Denmark

COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- A fifth free daily newspaper aimed at Danish readers hit the streets on Friday (Oct. 6), the Associated Press reports, even though a glitch cut its planned print run by half. The newest free daily is called "Nyhedsavisen" (The News Daily) and it was handed out at key traffic points and distributed directly to homes in Denmark's major cities.

Nyhedsavisen (The News Daily) had a planned circulation of 500,000 but half of them -- intended for readers in the Danish capital -- failed to be printed because of a technical problem. A smaller number of copies were handed out in Copenhagen while distribution went as planned in Aarhus and Odense, Denmark's second and third largest cities.

The newest daily arrived in an already saturated market where local media houses have vowed to keep the newcomer at bay.

When Icelandic conglomerate 365 Media Scandinavia earlier this year announced it would issue Nyhedsavisen, Denmark's two largest media companies scrambled to meet the challenge with free newspapers of their own.

Berlingske Officin, which also publishes several other newspapers including one of Europe's oldest dailies, Berlingske Tidende, came out first on Aug. 16 with tabloid-size dato (Date). A day later, rival media company JP/Politikens Hus followed with a paper of the same size called 24timer, or 24 hours.

Both free sheets planned to reach 750,000 readers per day but the first reader statistics from September showed that dato only reached 155,000 readers per day and 24Timer was read by 387,000.

In late August, Metro International SA which has been distributing the free metroXpress in Denmark since 2001, quickly introduced a free afternoon newspaper in addition to its morning edition. Besides metroXpress, Denmark already has another free daily newspaper, Urban, published by the Berlingske Officin.

The free sheets come on top of the existing paid-for dailies. Denmark's newspaper market is dominated by the Politiken, Jyllands-Posten and Berlingske Tidende newspapers, plus two tabloids Ekstra Bladet and B.T.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Free paper launched in Guangzhou, China

China isn't a place you'd think about starting a newspaper, what with government censorship and the jailing of reporters who honestly report on the ruthlessness of a Communist regime. Yet Metro has launched a free daily in Shanghai and now a newspaper company in Guangzhou, the capital of South China's Guandong Province, has begun one too.

The new 300,000-circulation paper, according to the People's Daily Online, is being published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during its trial period, but it could come out on five week days in the future, according the Jiao Xiangyang, a deputy editor-in-chief of the paper.

The article quotes Dong Tiance, a professor with the College of Journalism and Communications at Guangzhou-based Jinan University, as saying free metro newspapers are the new frontier in the newspaper market. Publishers have to seek new growth areas because of increasing challenges from such competitors as the Internet, he said. Advertisers are attracted by the relatively high purchasing power of subway passengers, he added. Dong did not expect the free paper to have a major impact on the traditional newspaper market because it will carry soft, consumption-focused stories rather than hard news, he said. "It will complement traditional papers instead of taking their readers," Dong told the People's Daily.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Residents trying to stop Examiner delivery

Maybe the Examiner chain of free dailies ought to re-examine its business model. The model stated that the paper would be delivered to upscale, affluent families at no charge -- and once those residents began reading the Examiner, the paper could have its circulation audited and then use those audits to bring in national advertising.

That was the business model the brothers Ryan and Scott McKibbin trumpheted relentlessly in 2004 and 2005 after Colorado billionaire Phil Anschutz began the Examiner chain.

But now the alternative weekly City Paper in Balitimore reports that residents don't want the Examiner delivered to their driveways. Piles of the unread newspapers are creating an mess and people worry that they might signal to a burglar than a home is unoccupied.

It's gotten so bad that one man who says his daughter slipped and fell on an Examiner while walking school is now printing signs to tell Examiner drivers not to deliver. He is passing them out free to anyone who wants them (see photos).

"One of the most difficult things we encountered -- and this has happened in San Francisco and D.C. -- is getting stops stopped," circulation vp Michael Phelps told CityPaper. "Part of the problem, he says, is carrier turnover; another is that some carriers are delivering the papers in the dark."