Thursday, August 31, 2006

Boulder's 'dirt' allowed to die

A free daily launched in Boulder, Colo., in August 2004 by a traditional daily hoping to attract younger readers will close Sept. 28, according to the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper. The new paper was named "dirt," with a lowercase "d," and it was originally designed to compete with the free Colorado Daily, the former Univesity of Colorado student paper that became a community daily in the 1970s. Both papers had weekday circulations of 15,000. Dirt was created by the 33,000-circulation Daily Camera and its owner, E.W. Scripps Co.

OFFICIAL STORY: This morning's Boulder Daily Camera story said that when Scirpps bought the Colorado Daily in September 2005, Dirt was scaled back to Thursdays and its nine full- and part-timers were given other jobs at the Camera. After that, the paper became profitable. In Feburary, Scripps (owner of Denver's Rocky Mountain News) formed a 50-50 partnership with Dean Singleton's MediaNews Group (owner of the Denver Post), and several Colorado newspapers were put into the partnership including the Colorado Daily, Daily Camera and dirt. Management decided that since the Camera's Friday magazine overlaps with Dirt, Dirt would have to become dust.

COMMENTARY: Dust was an embarrassing example of a traditional daily, with traditional daily thinking, jumping into a market that it knows nothing about. It's a little like watching major newspapers experiment with their Web sites -- they're clueless about the Internet, and their clunky, corporate sites prove it. And the Camera was clueless about the 18-45 market. The name was horrible. The content was "dumbed down" to younger people in a town where young people are pretty smart. Important news wasn't covered, but fluff dominated. The Colorado Daily points out that it didn't lose any customers to Dirt -- they all came from the Camera's customer base. Hopefully the Daily Camera staff will take a few minutes and jot down all of the lessons they learned in order to help other publishers who might be thinking about doing the same thing.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Free dailies shock traditional dailies

The Economist's online edition has a lengthy article about the problems facing the newspaper industry and what moves might make sense on the Internet. It's all stuff we've heard before. But the last four paragraphs of this special report sum up nicely what's happening in the world of free dailies. Those four paragraphs follow:

    The most shocking development for traditional newspapers has been the wild success of free dailies, which like the internet have proved enormously popular with young people. Roughly 28m copies of free newspapers are now printed daily, according to Metro International, a Swedish firm that pioneered them in 1995. In markets where they are published, they account for 8% of daily circulation on average, according to iMedia. That share is rising. In Europe they make up 16% of daily circulation. Metro calculates that it spends half the proportion of its total costs on editorial that paid-for papers do. In practice that means a freesheet with a circulation of about 100,000 employing 20 journalists, whereas a paid-for paper would have around 180. Metro's papers reach young, affluent readers and are even able to charge a premium for advertising in some markets compared with paid-for papers.

    “The biggest enemy of paid-for newspapers is time,” says Pelle Törnberg, Metro's chief executive. Mr Törnberg says the only way that paid-for papers will prosper is by becoming more specialised, raising their prices and investing in better editorial. People read freesheets in their millions, on the other hand, because Metro and others reach them on their journey to work, when they have time to read, and spare them the hassle of having to hand over change to a newsagent.

    Some traditional newspaper firms dismiss free papers, saying they are not profitable. Carlo De Benedetti, chairman of Gruppo Editoriale L'Espresso, publisher of la Repubblica, for instance, says that Metro loses money in Italy and that other freesheets are struggling. Globally, however, Metro has just become profitable.

    Consultants say that lots of traditional newspaper companies are planning to hold their noses and launch free dailies. In France, for instance, Le Monde is planning a new free daily, and Mr Murdoch's News International is preparing a new free afternoon paper for London, to be launched next month. Deciding whether or not to start a freesheet, indeed, perfectly encapsulates the unpalatable choice that faces the paid-for newspaper industry today as it attempts to find a future for itself. Over the next few years it must decide whether to compromise on its notion of “fine journalism” and take a more innovative, more businesslike approach — or risk becoming a beautiful old museum piece.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Free daily sparks paper war in Denmark

The Associated Press and others are reporting that a new free daily that has hit the streets of Copenhagen has sparked a newspaper war among Denmark's major newspaper companies. As a result, at least three other free dailie are expected to be launched this year. The new entry is "dato" (translated as "date"), which was being handed out at key traffic points and will be delivered to doorsteps and driveways starting today.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Upstart free daily takes on Dean Singleton

A businessman in Eureka, California, has launched and generously funded a free daily newspaper to go up against that town's 152-year-old paid-circulation daily owned by Dean Singleton's MediaNews Group. The businessman, Rob Arkley, explains in this story in the San Francisco Chronicle that he simply started the paper because he wanted more local news coverage than the other paper was providing. Author Joel Davis says the battle is a "pound-the-pavement tussle between two dailies that are constantly trying to scoop each other, something rarely found in big cities anymore, let alone towns with populations under 30,000." The upstart paper has a bigger newsroom than that of Singleton's. The reporters are paid more and get better benefits. The paper is printed on a new multi-milliondollar press using paper that's thicker than what Singleton uses. Says owner Arkley, "I get tired of the Times-Standard saying 'Rob is trying to put us out of business.' I mean [the Times-Standard and parent MediaNews] are a monopoly in every market they are in, whining like a bunch of babies. ... The first lick of competition they get they scream like they are getting (screwed). ... They are not having any fun."

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.

Monday, August 07, 2006

NY Times: Free dailies growing in Europe

The growth of free daily newspapers in Europe has drawn the attention of the New York Times, which reports that so-called free sheets now account for more than half of all papers circulated in Spain and more than 30 percent of those in Portugal, Denmark and Switzerland. The news peg for this story is that News Corp., publisher of London's Sun and Times, confirmed plans to start a free newspaper in Britain next month, and that Le Monde and Le Figaro in France are said to be working on free newspapers as well. The story also notes that in Germany, where there has been the most resistance to the free daiy trend, a free financial tabloid is set to start next Monday.

The NY Times says, "While established publishers have been dabbling with free papers for some time, the latest start-ups represent a new stage in the development of the market, said Aura Iordan, business analyst at the newspaper association. The publishers had started free sheets primarily for defensive reasons, to fend off the threat from the likes of Metro. But now, she said, they view free dailies as a possible source of profit."

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Murdoch to start evening paper in London

On Sept. 18, London will get its fourth free daily newspaper -- called thelondonpaper -- a colorful, 48-page afternoon publication aimed at a young, upscale audience. Owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., it will have an initial circulation of 400,000 and will be distributed between 4:30 and 7 p.m. using 700 distributors. The paper will have a staff of 70, including an editorial team led by Stefano Hatfield, a former editor of Campaign, a marketing trade magazine.

London's first free daily was Metro, launched in 1999 by Daily Mail owner Associated Newspapers. Second was the Evening Standard Lite, which started in late 2004. The third was the independently owned City AM, which began last September. A fourth free daily is "a further endorsement of the free model which we think will be a big and prosperous market," City AM chief executive Jens Torpe told the LA Times.