Sunday, December 30, 2007

Colorado Daily publisher moves on

Randy Miller, publisher and former owner of the free Colorado Daily in Boulder, is leaving the paper after seven years. Miller is buying the Tucson (Arizona) Explorer, a free weekly. Miller bought the Colorado Daily in 2001 for $2.38 million after a previous owner filed Chapter 11. The Colorado Daily originally was the student-run campus paper at the University of Colorado, but it split away from the university in 1971 in a dispute with the school's regents over its Vietnam War coverage. For many years, the Daily competed for readers with the Boulder Daily Camera, that city's mainstream paid daily. In 2005, the Camera's owner, E.W. Scripps, bought the Daily from Miller but asked him to stay on as publisher. "After seven years, I think that I've accomplished most of the things that I want to do with the Daily," Miller told the Daily Camera. Al Manzi, who heads the Camera, will assume the publisher role in the interim until a new general manager is named.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Metro takes ad wraps to a new level

The ad wrap concept -- where an a four-page advertising section is wrapped around a newspaper, turning the front cover into an ad -- has been taken to the next level by Metro Canada. In its Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and Ottawa editions, the front pages last week were mock front covers for the "Springfield Shopper," the Simpsons' hometown newspaper. The other three pages also had copy promoting the movie.

"We do a fairly significant number of cover wraps, with traditional branding and execution. But what the Simpsons (promo) did was provide content. It's the first time we've done that to this extent, across Canada," the paper's associate publisher, Irene Patterson, told

Free daily expert Piet Bakker points out that Metro's review only gave the movie three stars out of a possible five. So, at least in this case, it doesn't appear as if such an overwhelming ad influenced the paper's editorial product, Bakker writes in his Newspaper Innovation blog.

In the U.S., the Examiner chain is also doing ad wraps including one in November for the movie "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium." The movie was produced by Walden Media, a company owned by billionaire oilman Phll Anschutz, who also owns the Examiner.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Expansion of free dailies slows

By three measures, the growth of the free daily newspaper industry slowed in 2007.
    1. The University of Amsterdam's Piet Bakker, an expert on the industry, reports that the combined worldwide circulation of free dailies increased by only 13 percent — the slowest percentage increase since 2003.

    2. Bakker also says more free dailies have closed in 2007 than in previous years (though there were still more launches in 2007 than closures).

    3. The third measure comes from MediaLife Magazine, which found that U.S. media buyers were less interested in free dailies this year than in 2006.
Asked "What is the most interesting issue or trend in newspapers right now?" only 11 percent said "free dailies," down from 16 percent a year earlier. No. 1 was "circulation woes," a paid newspaper phenomenon. MediaLIfe goes on to say:
    A good share of readers are still undecided about the impact of the free papers, nearly two thirds, or 63 percent, in the recent survey. That's down from 79 percent in July 2006.
Interestingly, the remainder are more sharply divided on how well free papers will fare. This time around, 18 percent dismissed freebies as a passing trend, versus 12 percent 18 months ago.

But this time 18 percent also saw the free papers as very promising, versus 10 percent in the earlier survey.

(We have a slight difference of opinion with Bakker about the number of free dailies to open and close in the U.S. He says the U.S. gained one free daily in Boston and lost a Spanish language paper in Dallas-Ft. Worth. That's correct, but his numbers didn't include the switch of a suburban Phoenix daily (East Valley Tribune) from paid to free. So instead of the U.S. gaining one free daily and losing one, the actual ratio is three new papers to one closure. Not included is the The Messenger in Mount Airy, N.C., which distributes to homes for free but costs 50 cents in racks. It is arguable whether The Messenger fits into the category of free dailies.)

Mathematics aside, Bakker's point is still valid -- the free daily frenzy has slowed in the United States. The industry is growing, but not by the astronomical rates of years' past.

On the other hand, free dailies are on fire in Canada with six launches this year. Most major Canadian cities have three of them. The chains are Metro Canada (owned by Toronto Star and Metro), 24 hours (Quebecor Media) and RushHour (CanWest).

As a result, overall newspaper readership (free + paid) is stable in Canada, according to the industry group Newspaper Audience Databank. The Toronto Star, reporting NAD's 2006 results, wrote:
    While free daily newspapers and online editions of newspapers continue to grow and attract readers, the survey, considered the key benchmark for newspaper readership, indicates they have not cannibalized existing newspaper readership as much as has been feared.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Metro says, 'Czech please!'

For those keeping an eye on Metro International, new chief executive Per Mikael Jensen has made another move as part of his effort to get the giant free-daily company in the black: He sold a 60 percent stake in Metro Czech Republic to that country's MAFRA media group. Terms weren't disclosed, but Jensen is quoted in a news release as saying: "This transaction will bring significant saving opportunities as well as possibilities of packaging Metro with some of the very strong MAFRA titles, which will accelerate the process towards profitability. As such, this is a good example of Metro International's strategy and dedication to stronger financial performance." The sale follows last week's announcement by Metro that it is scrapping a money-losing real estate edition in Stockholm, where the chain got started in 1995.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Editor: RedEye succeeds by being relevant

RedEye, the Chicago Tribune's free daily, is making money, growing its circulation and adding editions. In its fifth year in business, RedEye is probably the most successful major market free daily in the United States -- and is seen as a model for others to copy. In September, Los Angeles Times Publisher David Hiller said he is considering starting his own version of RedEye.

We asked RedEye Editor Jane Hirt (pictured) the following questions. RedEye appears to be successful at reaching the 18-34 demo. How did you do it?

Jane Hirt: We have been successful, Clyde, and the not-so-secret secret ingredient is relevance. We strive every day with every decision to be super relevant to our target audience: commuting Chicagoans in their 20s and 30s who are time-pressed, socially active and all over the place when it comes to media consumption. In the office, we talk about our readers every day as we make coverage decisions and chose our Page 1 stories/photos/headlines. And readers are considered in business decisions as well, including the types of advertising we pursue and how we distribute the paper. Did you have to "dumb down" straight news to get there?

Hirt: Not at all. Readers tell us that one of the most valuable aspects of RedEye is its concise nature: We get to the point, and for busy readers that's priceless. Shorter, to-the-point, interesting stories aren't dumb, they actually require smarter editing and editorial discipline. As for story selection, RedEye contains traditional headline news tailored to the target RedEye reader who wants to stay plugged in. The paper also contains lots of pop culture coverage, photography, bold color and humor where appropriate. It's a combination of all those things that keeps RedEye bold, lively and -- yes, I'll say it --quite smart. Chicago seems to be a very political city. I haven't seen any editorials in RedEye. How does the paper stay out of politics? Are you being pushed/pulled by politicians to support/propose various proposals?

Hirt: The simple answer is, that as an edition of the Chicago Tribune, RedEye's editorial position is voiced on the Tribune's editorial page. Beyond that, RedEye is not a very political paper as compared to traditional newspapers. When we do cover politics, it tends to be when pop culture and politics collide (as when Oprah endorsed Obama) or from the standpoint of "What does the reader need to know in order to vote."

Beyond that, we don't devote much space to traditional political analysis or the behind-the-scenes "politics" of politics. Our readers haven't asked that of us. But just because we don't have an editorial page, doesn't mean there isn't opinion in RedEye. Besides our columnists, regular readers of RedEye know that RedEye definitely has a voice. It's expressed in our sassy headlines, our bold visuals, and in the humorous quips you'll find sprinkled throughout the paper. A few months ago you added a Saturday edition. Is a Sunday paper on the horizon?

Hirt: In May we launched a Weekend Edition of RedEye to meet demand of weekend readers and pre-print advertisers. It's home delivered for free on Saturdays to anybody who signs up for it, and home delivery is actually the only way to get it at this point. (It's not in the honor boxes.)

The weekend edition has a slightly different editorial feel, as readers have told us they have different needs and desires on the weekend. For example, it's a little less newsy and much more events-oriented than the weekday paper. So far, it's been successful, revenue and readership-wise.

As for the horizon, anything is possible, Clyde. Our opportunities to grow seem endless at this point. I wouldn't rule out anything.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

New Metro CEO begins making cuts

COMMENTARY: The decision by the new CEO of Metro International to kill a home-delivered real estate edition in Stockholm, Sweden may not seem that significant in North America. But the move by Per Mikael Jensen (pictured) is the first of many cuts he is planning to get his far flung company back in the black. Metro hasn't said where his review of the company's operations will take him next. But in the United States, Metro has three papers — in Boston, Philadelphia and New York — and none of them are profitable. In the most recent quarter, sales were off 12 percent in Boston and 5 percent in Philadelphia compared to the same period last year. New York was the only bright spot with a 18 percent jump. If Jensen's aim is to eliminate all money-losing papers within the 100 city chain, then these three U.S. editions are goners. But they probably have survived this long because of the prestige factor -- Metro really can't claim it is a worldwide company without a presence in the United States. Is prestige more important than profits? Maybe so, since the real estate pub Jensen killed was in the city where Metro began.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Examiner blogger accused of plagiarism

It's bad enough that a blogger on the San Francisco Examiner website was caught stealing stories from other papers without attribution. But to make matters worse, Executive Editor Jim Pimentel says that the Examiner doesn't edit blogs before they are posted, and that errors are only corrected when they're discovered afterward. The plagiarism and Pimentel's answer were reported by a rival paper, the San Francisco Weekly. The Weekly says that unpaid blogger Sharon Gray "created the appearance of being an unusually industrious investigative reporter, writer, and photographer, when in fact much of her work consisted of material taken from elsewhere on the Internet." While aggregating content from other sources is done widely on the Internet, the standard practice is to attribute the source of the information -- something Gray did not do. After Pimentel was questioned about Gray's blog, it disappeared from the Examiner's website.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Paper drops Monday, Tuesday editions

In Eureka, California -- a city of 26,000 on the Pacific Coast some 275 miles north of San Francisco -- the town's free daily has announced it will no longer publish print editions on Mondays and Tuesdays in the new year.

The death of the two editions is perhaps the first casualty in an intense battle between the town's two dailies:
    • The Eureka Times-Standard, which is paid, 153-years-old (that's old by California standards) and owned by a national chain, MediaNews Group of Denver, Colorado, headed by Dean Singleton.

    • The Eureka Reporter. which is free, almost 2 years old and owned by local millionaire Rob Arkley Jr. Arkley, who owns several local businesses including a bank, started the Reporter because he felt there wasn't enough local news in the Times-Standard.
Here's a link to a 2006 San Francisco Chronicle story that describes the newspaper war in detail.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

What's happened to the Examiner?

Online people won't see what readers in Baltimore, Washington and San Francisco get when they find the Examiner on a doorstep, driveway or newsrack. Covering the Examiner on many days is a four-page "wrap" consisting of four pages of advertising — on the front, second page, second-to-the-last page and back page. What happened to the idea that the headlines you put on page 1 sold your newspaper? The Examiner has abandoned that idea and now -- according to this report by the San Francisco Press Club -- has abandoned front-page news for an advertiser story about a Christmas event at the zoo. Has the Examiner thrown in the towel?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Metro's chief operating officer resigns

A month after Danish TV executive Per Mikael Jensen took over as chief executive of Metro International, his second in command has resigned, the free daily newspaper company announced today. Chief Operating Officer Chris Spalding, whose resignation is effective Dec. 31, ran Metro after Pelle Törnberg stepped down as CEO earlier this year.

Only a few months ago, Spalding sounded optimistic about the future of Metro. He was quoted in a press release about the move of Metro's headquarters to London's Fleet Street as saying, "We are excited by the idea of moving such a modern publisher as Metro into the historical heartland of the newspaper industry. In a way this move sees newspapers coming full circle: Metro broke the mould of daily newspaper publishing and now we are back where that mould was originally cast."

At the same time Spalding's exit was announced, Metro said it is sweetening the compensation plan of its top executives by granting them shares of the company's stock. The stock is being issued two months after the company announced an $18 million loss in the third quarter, double the amount in the same quarter last year.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The free daily story must be told!


Free dailies are incredibly popular among readers. Ask any publisher of a free daily and they'll tell you that they can't print enough of them. People like free news. And those who favor free dailies fall into the coveted 18-34 demo. In other words, free dailies are the perfect fit for regional and national advertisers who are blowing their money on internet and TV.

To most of you, I'm preaching to the choir. But this is a message that needs to get out to ad buyers.

Those ad buyers might say, "I can reach those people on the internet." Really? In the typical circulation area of a free daily, an advertiser would have to buy ads on hundreds of websites to reach as many eyeballs as the free paper. And as more sites are launched online, this fractionalization only works to the advantage of free newspapers. When it comes to reaching readers in a particular geographic area, nobody can beat us.

But we need somebody to tell that story. In London, Viscount Rothermere's Associated Newspapers is launching a trade campaign called "Metro Creates" to showcase that free daily's advertising services to agencies, according to the advertising trade website Brand Republic. The campaign aims to draw attention to Metro Londonr's advertising opportunities, including glossy wraps, tactical ads, front-page stickers, 3-D ads and silver ink ads.

Brand Republic says:
    Metro is distributing 230 Metro branded Dualit toasters to senior agency figures, which will be accompanied by two toast-shaped hardback books titled "Fresh Out" and "Fresh In." The books will detail the paper's advertising opportunities and feature its most recent paper and online creative ads, highlighting various brands that have advertised within Metro.

    Metro will send the books, packaged in branded sandwich bags, to a further 2,000 creative and media agency contacts, Brand Republic reports. The recipients will have the chance to win one of 20 additional Dualit toasters.

    Metro launched the campaign after meeting with a number of creative agencies.
Are free dailies in the U.S. meeting with agencies and talking about things like this? Madison Avenue needs to know our story -- agencies (and their cilents) deserve to know how much more effective free dailies are than paid papers in the same areas.

Your feedback to this editorial is welcomed and encouraged. E-mail me at

New Czech free daily will focus on business

The Associated Press is reporting that a publisher in the Czech Republic is planning to launch a business oriented free daily later this month. Mlada Fronta AS, a privately owned Czech publisher, says its new paper, titled E15, will have an initial press run of 50,000 per day, Monday-Friday. AP says some analysts contend that E15 might add pressure on the tight print market by targeting business sections of the general news dailies as well as Hospodarske Noviny, the only Czech business daily newspaper.

Filipino free daily celebrates 7th anniversary

The Manila-based Inquirer Libre, an offshoot of the Phillippine's most widely circulated paid broadsheet, is celebrating its seventh anniversary. Libre has a circulation of 110,000 with no returns, according to its auditing firm, and a pass-on rate of four persons per copy. Hawkers hand copies of Libre to train and ferry commuters on weekday mornings.

In this anniversary story, Libre reports that it has beaten three competitors that were also distributed to commuters free of charge. "They include the Metro News given away on a weekly basis in MRT stations, Pasa ‘Yo which started in 2005 and lasted just over a year, and Standard Express which folded recently, also after a run of more than a year."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Nashville daily evolving from print to online

A free daily in Nashviille, The City Paper, has purchased a system from Olive Software of Santa Clara, Calif., that allows online readers to easily page through the paper, seeing pages as they would be displayed in print. The software allows readers to click on ads and reach advertisers websites, according to a press release from Olive Systems. Wehaa Design LLC is vendor of similar software. Both companies sell systems that will take the PDFs that a newspaper already makes and coverts them into pages that are easily turned, enlarged/reduced and searched.

In the press release, Albie Del Favero, publisher of The City Paper, says: “We are a free daily in the mold of European commuter dailies, but since Nashvillians don’t typically commute via train or the bus, we distribute the paper in office buildings rather than commuter stations. Because of this, our readers are more likely to read The City Paper at their desks in the morning. And what we found was that increasingly more of them were actually reading the paper online. Because of this online readership growth and the expense of printing and delivering the paper each and every day, we are slowly evolving the paper from a print product to a primarily digital product.

“There are lots of places to go to get national news, but there are very few places to get in-depth local news,” said Del Favero. “That’s why we remain focused on providing local, and not national or international news.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Canadian chain shows impressive growth

Perhaps one of the most exciting stories about the growth of free dailies is unfolding in Canada. The percentage of Canadians reading newspapers has been steady in recent years because those who have abandoned paid papers are now picking up free dailies.

Three free-daily chains have spread out across the broad expanse of Canada, publishing in most markets. They are:Quebecor Media (Toronto Stock Exchange symbols QBR.A and QBR.B) is a huge diversified company with broadcasting, cable, telephone, wireless and phone book businesses. So the results of its smaller free daily division are often overlooked. But five days ago Quebecor Media reported its third-quarter results and they showed that revenue at the company's 24 hours/heures papers saw a 69.1 percent jump in revenues compared to the same quarter last year (See page 23 of the company's Management Discussion and Analysis for the third quarter). Dollar figures weren't given.

The third quarter must have been the best quarter for the 24 hours/heures chain because for the first nine months of the year, revenues of the free dailies grew by 58.0 percent compared to the same period last year.

One reason for the revenue jump is that Quebecor Media in the past year has added Ottawa, Gatineau, Calgary and Edmonton to its network of free daiiles that started with Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Again while not providing dollar figures, the company reported an 87.2 percent reduction in operating losses at its free dailies in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver compared to the same quarter a year earlier. In other words, Quebecor Media's free dailies are still losing money, but not as much as before.

CanWest MediaWorks did not report any information about its RushHour chain in the documents it provided to shareholders.

As for Metro Canada, its 50 percent shareholder, TorStar Corp. (Toronto Stock Exchange symbol TS.B), didn't provide much information in its most recent quarterly report. But it did say, "Newspapers and Digital revenue grew $6.1 million to $253.5 million with growth at Metroland Media Group, Metro and the Digital properties." Since its 50 percent share of Metro Canada was lumped in with other assets, it is impossible to know how its five free dailies (Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary) performed. The same type of information was given for net income.

But later in the report, TorStar Corp. provides a clue: "Higher revenues at Metro and the Digital properties offset lower advertising revenue at the Toronto Star both in the quarter and year to date. ... Advertising revenue was down 7.1 percent at the Toronto Star in the third quarter ... Metro continued to have strong revenue growth through the third quarter in both the Toronto market as well as the expansion markets." Under the heading "Outlook," TorStar Corporation's managers said, "{T]he revenue outlook is mixed with advertising trends continuing to be challenging for the Toronto Star but stronger for Metro, Sing Tao and the digital properties."

A couple of observations:
    • It's unclear whether any of Canada's free dailies are making money, but with revenue increasing, many will in the next few years.

    • In the United States, free dailies are owned by a wide variety of owners with a lot of independents in the fray. In Canada, the free daily industry is dominated by three chains, which have expanded into every major market.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Report: Paid paper stole free Boston papers

Boston Magazine reports that delivery drivers for the Boston Herald are stealing copies of that city's two free dailies, BostonNow and Metro Boston. Reporter M. Elizabeth Roman said she witnessed thefts at four locations. "As the presence of free daily and weekly papers here increases, hardball tactics like this seem inevitable," Roman writes. "Readership studies show that free papers do a better job than their pay peers of attracting new readers. For the Herald, which relies on single-copy sales for 77 percent of its weekday circulation, that makes the freebies serious competition." The illustration is by Marcos Chin from Boston Magazine.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Metro moving to London's Fleet Street

In one of his first moves as CEO, Per Mikael Jensen (right) is moving Metro International's headquarters to London's Fleet Street, the spiritual home of the British press. Some 70 employees will relocate there including the chain's global editorial, finance, marketing, research, online and global ad sales departments. According to, the new offices at 85 Fleet Street were previously occupied by Reuters, which was the last major news organization to leave the "street of ink" in 2005.

“We are excited by the idea of moving such a modern publisher as Metro into the historical heartland of the newspaper industry," chief operating officer Chris Spalding is quoted by PressGazette as saying. "“In a way this move sees newspapers coming full circle: Metro broke the mould of daily newspaper publishing and now we are back where that mould was originally cast."

Thursday, November 01, 2007

An interesting question about comics

Here's a question I got from a reader:

Hey, I just want to say that I think your blog is informative. After discovering the free daily trend about 2 years ago, I've been following it on and off since. So, I thought I ask you. What are the chances of syndicating material to these free papers? Alt-weeklies have some syndicated features, like the "This Modern World" comic strip. Would it be possible to have comics running exclusively in these free papers?

My response:

Thank you for the kind words.

I am not an expert on syndication. You might consider going to and posing that question. The members of that site include editors and publishers of free dailies. They would be in the best position to know.

My opinion, for what little it is worth, is that free dailies are very independent and often quite different from one another. While one might be longing for a certain comic strip, another would not be interested in any comics. It's hard to generalize.

I am sure the major syndicates (United Media, Universal, Creators, King Features) have tried to sell comics and features to all of them. About a year ago the Washington Examiner cut the number of comics they run in half (See item). Some of the newer "commuter" free dailies, such as BostonNOW, don't have any comics. Many of the "community" dailies, like the Palo Alto Daily News or Vail Daily, run the A-list of syndicated comics.

On the other hand, I know of cases where free dailies have been unable to buy the most popular comics because the major paid papers in their markets have obtained exclusiviity contracts with the syndicates. So you might have some success offering a product to free dailies that is unavailable to paid dailies.

As you probably know, the economics of syndication do not favor comic-strip artists. A paper of about 10,000 circulation typically pays less than $60 a month for a strip that runs six times a week. Most of the money a paper pays goes into the syndicate's pocket, not the artist. Even if you were to sign up every free daily in North America (55 to 60 papers), you would still need a day job.

But the number of free dailies is increasing every month, so I am optimistic that will change.

That's just my opinion. Ask the group.

Clyde Davis

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

RedEye fends off cannibals, celebrates 5th

RedEye celebrated its fifth birthday yesterday by bumping its circulation from 150,000 to 200,000, becoming the largest circulation daily newspaper within Chicago's city limits.

More importantly, RedEye is grabbing younger readers who wouldn't dream of picking up the stodgy 160-year-old Chicago Tribune, the mother paper of RedEye.

"There is very little cannibalization there. It's a different audience," Brad Moore, general manager of RedEye, tells Editor & Publisher.

Advertisers are less interested in the 55+ crowd the Tribune attracts and more desirous of people between 18 and 34 years of age, the target of RedEye. RedEye grabs them with headlines like "Who tops Maxim's unsexy list," "Vote in the Most Beautiful Dog Contest" and "Holidates — Five spots to mix, mingle and find the perfect match for any holiday."

Unlike the Metro International model of free dailies, RedEye doesn't have much wire copy — most of it is staff written and aimed directly at its key demographic.

What Metro lacks is the detailed coverage of local government, schools and business that have been a mainstay in daily papers — the kind of coverage readers, once they buy a home and begin to raise a family, care about.

That kind of coverage is the bread and butter of Arlington Heights-based Daily Herald, northwest of Chicago. The Chicago Tribune, in announcing RedEye's circulation increase, made it clear that the youthful free daily would be going after the Herald.

One way Metro will go after the Herald is by distributing at every Metra commuter rail stop in the Chicago metropolitan area. Any other efforts to go after the Herald's readership weren't disclosed.

RedEye is one of the few commuter free dailies that's profitable. Others, like the Examiner papers (in D.C., Baltimore and San Francisco) or Metro (NY, Boston, Philly) continue to bleed red ink. Last month, the LA Times (which, like RedEye, is owned by the Tribune Co.) said it was considering a free daily modeled after RedEye.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Free Daily Assn. snags me as a contributor

I was flattered and surprised when Henry Scott, the founding publisher of Metro New York, asked to add my blog to the website for the new organization he is forming, the Free Daily Association of North America. For several years now, I've been posting news and commentary about this emerging industry here at at From now on, I plan to post new items both here and there, Once you type in that URL, you will be automatically re-directed to a sign-in page. Go ahead and sign up. It doesn't cost anything. And once inside you'll not only find my blog but contributions from many others. And you'll be able to communicate with others in this emerging industry. As Scott put it, it's a "place to ask questions, get answers and get to know one another."

For the record, while I am happy to have my blog hosted by the association, my views are my own. I don't speak for the association or anyone else. I'm independent.

As always, I welcome tips from readers. Many of you take the time to send me inside information or links to stories you've seen. I appreciate the help. I also appreciate corrections, criticism and ideas. My e-mail address is As many of you know, I keep my sources anonymous when asked.

Friday, October 26, 2007

After fire, new free daily goes weekly

After a fire gutted its offices, a 4-month-old free newspaper in Fayetteville, N.C., has switched from daily to weekly. The young paper, called SmartNews, was being warmly received by readers but advertisers weren't as quick to jump on board, Editor and Co-Publisher Randy Foster said in this candid Web posting to readers.

Foster wrote that his 8,000-circulation paper also faced other obstacles "such as being locked out of Wal-Marts, Harris Teeter, Food Lions and Kmart because we wouldn’t pay a fee to distribute at those locations; such as having our newspapers concealed by one or two competing papers being placed strategically on top of our stacks; such as having several of our racks stolen."

He also shed light on the Sept. 24 fire. It was a combination of "a 50-year-old building, an overloaded surge protector, a propane line and several tons of tinder-dry antique furniture," he wrote.

Foster said it is possible SmartNews might return as a daily. "The cold hard reality of business forces us to step back a bit and increase our ad sales while reducing our costs. In time we can start adding back days, and regain our status as a daily newspaper. Those are days I look forward to."

Here's a link to an interview did with Foster in July, some six weeks after the paper started.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Metro battered by new competitors

BusinessWeek magazine is questioning whether Metro International, which it describes as the "Free Dailies King," has been dethroned by imitators in France, Spain and its original market of Sweden.

The article points out that one of Metro's toughest challengers is the free daily 20 Minutes, owned by Norwegian media group Schibsted. In Spain, 20 Minutes has 2.4 million readers compard to 1.7 million for Metro. In France, 20 Minutes has 2.4 million readers compared to 2.0 million for Metro.

BusinessWeek talked to analysts who said 20 Minutes has pulled ahead because it has jazzier visuals, a more conversational tone and a stronger emphasis on local news. Metro carries a lot of international stories while "20 Minutes is very French," said Patrick Bartement, director general of OJD, a group that audits media circulation in France.

Piet Bakker, the University of Amsterdam associate professor who tracks free dailies, is quoted by BusinessWeek as saying Metro is in a precarious position because it has no other business to fall back on—unlike 20 Minutes' owner Schibsted, whose holdings also include traditional newspapers, magazines, and TV and online operations. In the battle for supremacy among free newspapers, he says, success may come down to "who has the deepest pockets." Metro International may have to dig deeper to stay in the game.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Salt Lake City paid paper plans free daily

The Salt Lake Tribune plans to launch a free daily called Flash, according to an ad the paper has posted at for an editor who will head a four-person news staff.

MediaNews Group, the owner of the Tribune, was intending to use the name Flash for a free daily it was planning in 2005 in Berkeley, California. San Francisco Bay Area editor David Burgin had been planning to launch the Flash for a year and a half when, unexpectedly, a rival free daily started, the Berkeley Daily News. MediaNews shelved its plans for Flash, but apparently has now resurrected the name for use in Salt Lake City.

"The new tabloid will target Salt Lake City residents as they commute home from work and will be handed out on the street and be in prominently placed boxes Monday through Friday," the ad says.

The Tribune is owned by MediaNews Group, a privately held chain of 57 papers in 12 states headed by Dean Singleton. Ironically, while MediaNews was beaten to market in Berkeley, it ended up acquiring the Berkeley Daily Planet a year later as part of its acquisition of papers previously owned by Knight Ridder in the Bay Area.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Metro hammered in Philly, Boston

Metro International's free dailies in Boston and Philadelphia reported lower sales in the third quarter compared to the same period last year. But the company's New York edition's sales shot up 18 percent for the quarter.

Boston's 12 percent decline is being attributed to a change in sales directors. In Philadelphia, a 5 percent decline was blamed on increased competition — the once moribund Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News has roared back to life with new ownership led by a successful local advertising executive, Brian Tierney.

While sales were off in Boston due to personnel changes, Metro has stablized its sales force in New York. (Word on the street is that Metro's free daily rival, amNewYork, had a strong quarter, too.)

The details about sales in the U.S. emerged today as Metro announced its third quarter results. The company warned analysts on Oct. 13 that the results would show an $18 million loss, double the amount in the same quarter last year. The numbers today are pretty much in line with the guidance Metro provided earlier.

But back on Oct. 13, Metro said its board was going to devise a plan to stem its losses by deciding where it would continue to invest. The implication was that the board would also decide where it would stop investing — which would probably mean the sale or closure of some of its 70 editions worldwide. The board is apparently still considering its options; no announcements about closures or sales were made today.

Free dailies turn nonreaders into readers

A New York Times story today about a new paid paper in Spain has some interesting insights about that country's free daily newspaper market. The new paper is named Público, which is hoping to reach young, left-leaning readers who are apparently underserved in that country. Here are three paragraphs from the story by Victoria Burnett:
    "Freesheets, rather than stealing market share in Spain, have been converting nonreaders into readers, filling a gap left by the lack of Spanish tabloids. Circulation of freesheets has shot from one million to about five million in the past five years, according to the World Association of Newspapers.

    "This is partly because newspaper readership in Spain -- a country of conversationalists who crowd sidewalk cafés and village squares -- is among the lowest in Europe. The country's three main national newspapers, El País, ABC and El Mundo, do not sell a million copies between them.

    "Figures from the World Association of Newspapers show that about four million newspapers were sold each day last year in Spain, which has a population of about 40 million, compared with nearly double that number in France, where the population is about 60 million."
Spain has three healthy free dailies led by the 2.3-million circulation "20 Minutos" which began in the publisher's basement six years ago and last year became the country's largest circulation paper. Half the papers distributed in Spain are free.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Switch to free gets a warm review

The suburban Phoenix East Valley Tribune's switch from paid to free distribution has received a warm review from a local journalism professor who previously was editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and past president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Tim McGuire of Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism still isn't sold on the concept of free dailies, but he says that the East Valley Tribune's debut of its new format Wednesday "was better than I had hoped or imagined." McGuire writes:
    "The quality of the debut edition of the EV Tribune indicated to me that this is not a slap-dash desperate effort, but rather it is a valid, laudable attempt to figure out the puzzle. The industry should celebrate that effort."
The first issue included this note from Executive Editor Jim Ripley who admitted that readers didn't like changes made to the paper in August and that the new format reflects what people wanted. He explains the thinking that went into the switch and then answers a key question about home delivery of the 102,000-circulation paper: "Why should I pay for a subscription if I can get it free?" Ripley's answer: "Well, you get home delivery seven days a week. You get all of the daily sections, sports and nation/world, and get all the weekly sections that I enumerated above. If you are a regular news and sports consumer, you’ll want the full package on your driveway."

The swtich attracted attention from other media:

• Local news talk station KTAR reported that the Tribune will be delivered to 500 locations free of charge, and that the number will increase over time. Publisher Julie Moreno is quoted as saying she expects some subscribers will later on decide only to read free issues. "Over time, we may see that some people will transition that way. But, as long as they're reading, that's our main concern," Moreno said.

• The Business Journal of Phoenix quotes Moreno as saying the switch will allow the paper to do a better job targetting news and advertising. "Part of this process involves creating separate editions of the paper for the specific geographic areas we serve. That way we can bring you local news and advertising specific to where you live," she said.

Three home delivery models emerge

When it comes to home delivery, the free daily industry now has three business models:
    • The newest approach is being pioneered by the Mesa, Arizona, East Valley Tribune (see items below and above), which is now giving away papers in racks and retail locations instead of charging readers. The free paper is all local and tabloid sized. The Tribune is still charging home subscribers, but they are getting a larger paper that, in addition to the all-local tabloid section, includes sections for sports, world/national news, features and comics.

    • The new Mount Airy, N.C. paper, The Messenger, is taking the opposite approach — delivering papers to homes for free but charging 50 cents at retail and rack locations.

    • And then there are five free dailies that are delivering papers to all homes in certain areas, whether requested or not by the homeowner. The five (we know about) are the Examiners in Washington, San Francisco and Baltimore, and The Greensburg Tribune-Review in suburban Pittsbugh, Pennsylvania, and Today's Local News in northern San Diego County.
In a year or two, we should go back and look to see which approach was most successful.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Suburban Phoenix paper starts free paper

Cox Enterprises, one of the biggest newspaper publishers in the United States, has jumped into the free daily business with both feet. The Mesa, Arizona-based East Valley Tribune, a paid broadsheet daily with a 102,000 circulation in the suburbs east of Phoenix, plans tomorrow to introduce a free tabloid that will include most of its local reporting. Paid subscribers will continue to get the full newspaper including national and world news, sports, classifieds and features. But the free paper should help the Tribune reach readers who aren't subscribing to a daily newspaper, making the paper more effective for advertisers. The free edition will be zoned geographically.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

'Israeli' may soon be sold, perhaps to Metro

Globes, a daily business newspaper in Israel, reports that Shlomo Ben-Tzvi is in advanced negotiations to sell his free newspaper “Israeli" to an unidentifed international company. In a separate development, Metro International has convinced a Tel Aviv judge to issue a temporary restraining order stopping businessmen Eli Azour and David Weissman from using the word "metro" in the title of their free daily. In its petition to the court, the company said that it was planning to launch “Metro” in Israel and that it was seeking a distributor for the newspaper. Globes' Yael Gaoni writes, "[I]n view of these developments, it cannot be ruled out that Metro International is the party interested in acquiring 'Israeli,' and turning it into the Israeli edition of 'Metro.'"

Metro losses double; Will some editions go?

Metro International, publisher of free dailies worldwide, has announced that its third-quarter losses will reach $18 million, double the amount in the same quarter last year.

Chairman Dennis Malamatinas said the board is "identifying core markets where Metro should continue to invest." That statement suggests the board will also pick markets where it will pull the plug on money-losing papers.

Metro appears to be in a free fall without a permanent chief executive at the helm. Longtime chief executive Pelle Törnberg, who officially left July 31, unofficially had been out the door months earlier. The new CEO, Per Mikael Jensen, won't start until November 1, the earliest date he could be released from his job as the top executive of Denmark's government TV network. Yet the statement issued Friday makes it clear that the board is beginning to stem losses before Jensen takes over.

By the way, of the $18 milllion in losses, $5 million were attributed to Törnberg's departure and "consultancy costs." Quite a golden parachute for the CEO of a company that has only made money in one of its 12 years of existence.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Chicago bans home delivery of free papers

Free newspapers in Chicago have discovered that a new law intended to stop the indiscriminate door-to-door distribution of menus, brochures and other advertising flyers also bans many circulation practices for free newspapers. The website Inside and report that Chicago's Aldermen, by a 50-0 vote, made it unlawful to distribute free “newspapers, periodicals and directories of any kind on any public way or other public place or on the premise of private property in the city in such a manner that it is reasonably foreseeable that such distribution will cause litter.”

That pretty much ends the distribution of free newspapers if a politician considers them to be "litter." Of course the law isn't being enforced evenly, so publications that the politicians like can continue to distribute.

The gimmick here is that the public was told that the law was designed to control litter. Who is against banning litter? Reminds us of news rack laws that are proposed to stop the proliferation of unsightly racks. Politicians will say anything to get the public to support their efforts to squelch a free press. The only question is whether publishers like those at the Tribune, Sun-Times or RedEye editorialize against this anti-free press effort or sit on their hands? Of course if they benefit from the silencing of smaller, independent competitors, they won't say a thing.

(At right is Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs. It's rumored that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wants to buy the team from the Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune and RedEye free daily.)

'Israeli' newspaper back from vacation

When you're a newspaper in trouble, isn't in interesting how the vultures (i.e. reporters from other papers) begin to circle. The management and staff at the "Israeli" probably know that feeling. But they're back in business after a two-week holiday. Owner Shlomo Ben-Tzvi is printing again. Globes online says the Israeli's circulation has been reduced from 40,000 a day to "reportedly less than 20,000 a day."

The Israeli is facing competition these days from Israel Today, or Israel Hayom, owned by American casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who has close ties to former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Adelson was a partner in the Israeli, but was pushed out in a court dispute. Now he's distributing more than 150,000 papers a day — far more than the 20,000 or less circulated by the Israeli.

Friday, October 05, 2007

How not to distribute a free daily newspaper

COMMENTARY: We're frustrated to read that a group of environmentalists is petitioning British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to have him ban hawkers who give away London's free daily newspapers. Don't get upset at the environmental group Project Freesheet, headed by Justin Canning. Canning is simply taking advantage of an opportunity handed to him by the thoughtless distributors of London Lite and thelondonpaper. Both papers have been liberally handing out papers to subway riders (or passengers of the "tube" as they say in England), many of whom drop the paper seconds later, creating a very visible mess. Canning has documented the mess on videos posted online.

This policy of flooding a market with free papers in the hopes that they will be read by somebody reminds us of the techniques employed by the Examiner newspapers in the United States. The Examiners dump their papers on people's doorsteps, regardless of whether the resident wishes to have them or not. Stopping the Examiner has proven to be next to impossible, as residents in Baltimore, Washington and San Francisco have discovered. Many are suing the Phil Anschutz-owned newspaper and lobbying for legislation to ban such distribution.

These sloppy tactics cause several problems:

1. They cause observers to think free dailies have little or no value. That makes it harder to sell advertising. It's better to have readers thinking the paper is in demand so that they hold on to their copy of it, and look forward to getting one the next day.

2. They lead to legislation restricting distribution. Such laws hurt newspapers that attempt to distribute their papers in a responsible fashion.

3. They give the public the impression that publishers don't care about the environment. Now we could argue that newsprint is a renewable resource (trees are a crop just like barley, corn or soy beans), but it still looks like waste to a public that is growing increasingly sensitive to environmental issues thanks to the global warming controversy.

What's needed here is self-policing. If newspapers, whether in London or Baltimore, aren't careful about how they distribute (and how that distribution looks to the public) they may find that they can't distribute in many places in the future.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bluffton Today growing at 20% clip

For a corporation like Morris Publishing, with revenues of $92 million in the second quarter, a unit that generates $1.17 million in sales might not seem significant.

But Morris, a chain of 27-daily newspapers mostly in the South, decided to make a special mention in its latest quarterly report (page 15) about its one free daily, the 16,500-circulation Bluffton Today, whose revenue increased $200,000, or 20.5 percent, in the quarter compared to the same period in 2006. Bluffton is a rapidly growing town next to Hilton Head and about 20 miles from Savannah.

While no more figures were offered for the Bluffton paper, we surmise that the paper's sales for the quarter went from $975,000 in 2006 to $1,175,000 this year. That would put the paper's revenues at around $4.7 million a year, give or take.

The report noted that the paper had "significant gains in the retail specialty publications produced and distributed by Bluffton, but not a part of the main newspaper."

So we're not sure how much of that gain was due to Bluffton Today. Still, at a time when newspaper ad revenues are falling (Morris reported a 7.1 percent drop companywide for the quarter), it affirms that free dailies are on the right track.

Bluffton Today is well designed and edited. It does a thorough job covering local news. We're also impressed by its method of displaying the pages for online readers. It's almost like holding a newspaper in one's hands.

The quarterly report gives us no idea what it costs to produce the Bluffton paper, but if the paper was profitable, it's certain that would have been mentioned. But that's not a put down — it may well be on the way to profitability if revenues are increasing at a 20 percent clip.

We have to wonder whether Morris will roll this prototype out to other markets.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

L.A. may not have a pot of gold

COMMENTARY: A few months ago, when one of billionaire oilman Phil Anschutz's guys told me they weren't going to launch an Examiner free daily in Los Angeles, I asked why? It's the nation's No. 2 media market, an internationally known city with a five-county population of 17 million. He asked me, "Why do you think they don't have an NFL franchise?" Because the Rams moved to St. Louis and the Raiders back to Oakland? No, because LA is a dysfunctional mess. It's too big of a media market to cost-effectively advertise anything, including an NFL team, and the best you can do is divide the place up in to smaller portions. But that doesn't work because people live in one place and work in another. Plus you have a situation similiar to Miami, where a growing number of people speak Spanish and are not legal residents, limiting their purchasing ability. For many advertisers, LA doesn't make sense anymore. At least in English. La Prensa and La Opinion seem to be doing quite well.

And that brings us to the Tribune Company's plans to launch in LA a free daily oriented to the English-speaking 18-34 age group, similar to the company's RedEye in Chicago. While LA Times publisher David Hiller hinted at such an idea last week, it won't happen until Sam Zell has taken control of parent company Tribune, which could be six months or longer.

But they'll still be first. Anschutz has costed out the market and found it to be too expensive. Who knows, maybe Metro International or Dagsbrun (backer of the new BostonNOW) might want to enter LA, but how could they match the delivery and advertising infrastructure of the LA Times?

If the LA Times starts a RedEye clone in LA, it won't happen until Zell has full control. Maybe spring 2008.

Friday, September 28, 2007

LA Times may start RedEye clone

LA Times Publisher David Hiller (right) told a luncheon audience Thursday that his company may start a free daily. It would be similar to parent company Tribune's RedEye in Chicago, a profitable six-day tab that focuses on the 18-to-34 age group. Reuters quotes Hiller as saying Redeye has added 600,000 readers in an average day to the Tribune's audience. Tribune also publishes the free daily amNewYork.

In June, there was a report that billionaire oilman Phil Anschutz, the owner of the Examiner free dailies, was going to expand into Los Angeles. But a source in the Anschutz empire shot down that report in July, saying the Denver tycoon has put all newspaper expansion plans on hold until their financial picture improves. The source hinted that Anschutz was ready to pull the plug if he didn't see changes.

It's not unusual for major newspapers to announce plans to start their own free dailies in order to keep invaders out of their markets. The Denver Post did just that in January 2006 in order to keep Anschutz from starting a free daily in Denver. However, the Post has never actually launched such a paper.

Online publication insults free dailies


Paid-circulation newspapers have long found it useful to characterize free dailies as "down market," containing nothing but wire stories. It was a slap in the face intended to keep advertisers from trying free dailies. MediaLife Magazine, which rarely gets anything right when it comes to free dailies, has published a condescending piece saying they are suddenly trying to become quality publications -- as if they didn't care what they printed in the past.

Several things caught our attention in this ridiculous article:
    • MediaLife points to the Examiner chain's hiring of "name columnists" as proof that free dailies are improving their news coverage. OK, who are those columnists? Conservatives Bill Sammon (a Fox News regular) and Rowan Scarborough, both of whom constantly write "news stories" defending the Bush administration. They're entitled to their opinions, but they belong on the editorial page like other pundits. If hiring these Republicans is a winning "strategerie" for the Examiner, how come the chain isn't selling more ads?

    • MediaLife credits Metro with convincing U.S. advertisers to buy ads in free dailies. What about the free dailies that existed before Metro entered the U.S. market in 2001? Before Metro arrived, the U.S. had more than a dozen thriving free dailies (Denver, Boulder, Vail, Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Steamboat Springs, Telluride, Colorado; Burlingame, San Mateo, Santa Monica and Palo Alto, California; Conway, Laconia, Berlin, N.H.). Where did those papers get their ads in all of the years before Metro blazed the trail for them? Metro just copied what these successful papers had been doing for many years, claimed they invented it, and the idiots at MediaLife don't know any better. (See June 20, 2006 article where MediaLife actually claimed that Metro brought the free daily to the U.S.)

    • Then there's this appalling paragraph: "Then comes the issue of how to get that free upscale paper in people's hands. With downmarket papers, that's easy. Stick it in commuters' hands as they're boarding a train or bus." Maybe Metro or the Examiner need to "stick" their papers in people's hands, but most free dailies haven't had to force their product on anyone. To the contrary, papers like the Palo Alto Daily News have readers who walk for blocks just to get their paper.
The experts quoted in the MediaLife article complain that it is hard to get a free paper in front of an upscale reader. Actually the experience of many free daily publishers is that readers of all income levels will pick up a paper — if it has news.

That makes us believe that free dailies have a bright future. But that future has little to do with what Metro or the Examiner are doing today. Both are money-losing chains where high-level managers have little idea about what readers want. In the three cities where the Examiner operates, it throws papers on driveways -- and residents are furious. And Metro Boston is purchasing recycling bins for the local transit authority to help it deal with the trash problems created by discarded papers.

If you want examples of "best practices" or "successful formulas," look at those free dailies that have been making money for years. Mostly they are driven by hard hitting local news coverage. Or visit tbt* in Florida or RedEye in Chicago, which have advanced the youth-oriented free daily.

Finally, it is easy for elitists to criticize free dailies for supposedly lacking quality. But the public decides which paper succeeds. We'd rather trust the public when it comes to selecting which newspaper prevails than an elitist anyday.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Paper delivers free to homes, 50 cents in racks

An update to yesterday's item about The Messenger, the new daily in Mount Airy, N.C. Publisher Mike Milligan confirms that The Messenger is being delivered free to homes, but costs 50 cents in news racks. That's a new twist on the free-daily strategy. We know of only five other free dailies that are delivering to homes (the Examiners in D.C., Baltimore and Washington, and The Greensburg Tribune-Review in suburban Pittsbugh, Pennsylvania, and Today's Local News in northern San Diego County), but they're all free in racks and stores.

Metro New York rejects anti-Bush ads

Metro New York has rejected two ads from the political group World Can't Wait, saying they are "too inflammatory" to publish on the back page, according to the group's website. is attempting to contact Metro to get its side of the story.

WCW, founded in 2005 by Revolutionary Communist Party founder Charles Clark Kissinger (according to, claims Metro refused to run an ad headlined “Who is the Real Nuclear Threat?” (pictured) in its September 21 issue because it was “too inflammatory” for the back page. A second ad headlined “One Million Dead in Iraq” was first rejected for placement on the September 25 back page explicitly because of its content, according to WCW.

Then, according to WCW, Metro offered placement on the back page at a price almost four times higher than what was originally agreed upon.

The WCW statement did not give dollar figures.

The dispute comes a week after The New York Times said it erred in giving another anti-war group,, a $77,508 price break on a full-page ad attacking Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. The House and Senate have passed resolutoins condemning for the ad, which referred to Petraeus as "General Betray Us."

WCW director Debra Sweet wrote that the decision by Metro "is undoubtedly related to the 'watch what you say' atmosphere created by the White House," which condemned the MoveOn ad.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

New N.C. free daily really costs 50 cents

One of our readers in North Carolina has tipped us off to the fact that the Mount Airy (N.C.) Messenger has a cover price of 50 cents, according to the PDFs of each day's paper found at its website. We reported Aug. 13 that the paper was free based on this account in the Winston Salem Journal, which said, "The first edition of The Messenger arrived July 9 in Mount Airy, which has a population of about 8,000. It publishes Monday through Friday. Home delivery is free." We've got e-mails out to Messenger managers. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A quarter of free dailies serve small towns

To many in the media, free dailies are a big city phenomena. But Henry E. Scott, former U.S. group publisher of Metro International and now interim director of the new North American Free Daily Newspaper Association, has done a survey showing a quarter of free dailies are in small towns.

Editor & Publisher has a report on the survey. Scott said that he sent out the survey to 60 free dailies and received 19 responses. While not comprehensive, it gives a small snapshot of the landscape.

Bullet points from the survey include:
    • 16 free dailies have a distribution of 100,001 or more copies; 11 have circulations ranging from 50,001 to 100,000; 19 have circulations ranging from 10,001 to 50,000; and 14 have circulations of up to 10,000.

    • Nearly one-third of free dailies are aimed at 18- to- 34-year old adults

    • The average free daily employs 29 people

    • 61% of free dailies distribute 95% or more of their copies

    • 61% of free dailies do their own distribution while 39% outsource delivery

    • More than half of all free dailies own their own presses

    • National advertising accounts for 13% of advertising revenue. The Newspaper National Network represents about 11%
Perhaps the most surprising thing in the E&P article is that a free daily association has already been formed. There has been talk of creating such an association for months. It will be interesting to see where Scott takes it from here.

Fire guts offices of new free daily

This picture shows what's left of the new free daily SmartNews in Fayetteville, N.C. The photo is by Jim McBee, the managing editor of the young paper. He says the fire didn't burn laptops that will allow the paper to continue publishing. The 8,000-circulation paper plans to have an edition out on the streets today. SmartNews started in June with a four-day-a-week printing schedule.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

'Free newspapers ... the future of print'

"Surveying the global newspaper market, it is increasingly plausible to imagine free newspapers as the future of print," writes Tim Luckhurst, a journalism professor at the UK's University of Kent, in an opinion piece in The Independent (of London). He goes on to discuss the growth of free dailies in Spain, Israel and London. Some points worth noting here:
    • Associated Newspapers' London Lite and Rupert Murdoch's thelondonpaper are locked in a battle that neither can win, says former Daily Express editor Richard Addis, who nonetheless plans to join the fray with an upmarket daily provisionally named The Day. "It is a bloody, long-term battle. Each product does its job well. On its own, either would be a good business. But they can't survive together."

    • London Lite had an average daily readership of 745,000 in the January-June period this year, while thelondonpaper had 713,000, Luckhurst notes, citing National Readership Survey figures. "Not bad for two titles that only appeared last year," he says.

    • "When you take a European-wide view, you can really see the value of free media," says Mark Soutar, former editor of the men's magazine FHM who is launching a free men's lifestyle weekly called ShortList. "There is a big age factor: readers over 40 associate free with cheapness and poor quality; readers under 35 have been conditioned by the internet to understand you can get high quality without paying for it."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

San Diego County free daily gets new editor

Today's Local News, the 75,000-circulation free daily serving northern San Diego County, has appointed a new editor. Susan DeMaggio was previously features editor of the Muskegon Chronicle in Michigan. Today's Local News is an offshoot of the Copley-owned San Diego Union-Tribune and DeMaggio will report to U-T senior news editor Todd Merriman. DeMaggio replaces Cindy Allen, who left the free paper. Today's Local News is distributed to homes in the cities of Carlsbad, Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos and Vista. The San Marcos-based paper is published five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sun Media buys out '24 Hours' partner

Sun Media Corp. has bought out its local partner in Vancouver's "24 Hours" free daily, The Jim Pattison Group, for an undisclosed amount. "It's not a strategic investment or core holding for the Pattison group," former 24 Hours president and senior Pattison executive Glen Clark told the Vancouver Sun. "On the other hand, Sun Media is developing the brand all across the country. It's a core business for them, there are synergies for them. It made more sense for them to own 100 percent."

The first edition of 24 Hours was published in Vancouver on March 30, 2005. At the time, Sun Media was already publishing versions of 24 Hours in Montreal and Toronto. Sun Media has since launched in Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa in French and English. The current weekday circulation of 24 Hours Vancouver is 210,400 readers, the Vancouver Sun story said.

When 24 Hours started publication, it faced fierce competition from two rival publications. One was Metro, majority-owned by Swedish publisher Metro International SA and minority-owned by CanWest Global Communications Corp. (now CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.). The other was Dose, owned by CanWest. CanWest has since sold its interest in Metro, and Dose is now publishing an online edition only.

Friday, September 07, 2007

London's Sun feels heat from free papers

The Sun, a London tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch, has slashed its cover price and hired more than 100 street hawkers in order to keep circulation from decreasing in the face of a growing number of free dailies, including one owned by Murdoch, TheLondonPaper. Murdoch acknowledged in 2005 that The Sun’s circulation, now at about 3 million, had suffered at the hands of London's Metro, one of the first free dailies in the city, and since then the commuter paper has continued to increase its distribution. “Murdoch is looking around at the intensified competition, and as the market leader he is taking action first to defend his leadership,” Derek Terrington, an analyst for Blue Oak Capital, a brokerage in London, tells MediaLife.

Santa Barbara free daily adds Saturday

The 17-month-old Santa Barbara Daily Sound will expand from five to six days a week by adding a Saturday edition tomorrow (September 8). The free daily started on March 23, 2006 with a five-day publishing schedule and initial press run of 3,000. Today, the Daily Sound prints 8,000 copies a day and averages 20 pages per copy. "We have a lot of exciting plans for the year to come. The launch of our Saturday paper is the first of some great things to come for the paper," said Editor and Publisher Jeramy Gordon. Above is a scene from the Daily Sound's office captured by a San Francisco Chronicle freelance photographer, Elisa Miller, last October.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

'Israeli' newspaper to take a vacation

A free daily in Israel, which had survived despite a partnership dispute, is now going on hiatus for two weeks (Sept. 23-Oct. 7)during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot and forcing the paper's 25-30 employees to take a forced vacation. The "Israeli" has been published continuously five days a week for the past 22 months but owner Shlomo Ben-Tzvi denied that the time-out means the paper will close. Still, the Israeli business publication Globes says the paper's suppliers haven't been paid. The Isreali denies it. The dispute between partners Ben-Tzvi and Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson resulted in Adelson starting his own free daily, "Israel Today," on July 31.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

German Post Office may launch a free daily

The one major European nation that doesn't have many free dailies is Germany (see Piet Bakker's chart0, but that could soon change. The German post office, Deutsche Post, is considering launching a free daily, and using its letter carriers as distributors, the Frankfurt newspaper Allgemeine Zeitung reports.

Hong Kong to get first English free daily

Hong Kong, which already has three thriving free dailies, will soon have a fourth — but this one will be in English. The Associated Press reports that the paid business paper The Standard will relaunch in a week with a new design as a free daily to boost circulation. Sing Tao News Corp. said it will start next Monday (September 10) with an initial print run of 120,000, a number apparently designed at edging out its better known rival South China Morning Post, whose average daily circulation ranged from 70,000 to more than 133,000 in 2006, according to audit figures. The AP couldn't get current circulation figures for The Standard. Sing Tao said the new edition of the Standard will target expatriates and be handed out in major business districts.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

E&P discovers free dailies

Before Journalism Jobs, the place to go if an up-and-coming reporter was seeking a better job was a magazine called Editor & Publisher. I can remember vividly the sight of reporters in a newsroom where I worked grabbing the latest E&P to see the "help wanted" ads. The magazine had articles too, but I never saw anybody reading them.

Today, E&P has morphed into a website about the news business. It does original reporting including this story headlined: "SPECIAL REPORT: Who Said Print Is Dead?" The article (well worth the time of anybody in the free daily business) is about the commuter or big city version of the free daily. E&P says these papers are aimed at the "club-hopping, trail-hiking, speed-dating young audience that has sustained alternative papers for more than a generation."

The article points out that there may soon be a battle for advertisers between alt-weeklies and commuter free dailies, such as Chicago's RedEye, Dallas's Quick, St. Peterburg's *tbt and Orange County's OC Post. (Not to get technical, but the OC Post is paid, while the other three are free.)

The alt-weekly formula is pretty simple: Left-wing news stories, concert listings, entertainment reviews and porno ads. The porno ads in the past kept a lot of advertisers from signing up with an alt-weekly. But commuter free dailies don't have those ads and can draw upon a broader array of advertising verticals.

Free dailies have another advantage over alt-weeklies. They come out every day. A point made by Henry E. Scott, managing director of Gansevoort Media in New York and the former group publisher of Metro U.S. at the end of the article.

The alt-weekly trade association, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, knows the free dailies are coming. "We used to be the gnats biting at the ankles of the big papers," says Richard Karpel of the association. "Now we have thousand of gnats around trying to take our piece of cheese."

Saturday, August 25, 2007

San Francisco inundated with free dailies

Above are a number of newspapers I picked up while visiting San Francisco. They're all free. Which is great for readers but bad for publishers. San Francisco has got to be the nation's most saturated market when it comes to free newspapers, both daily and weekly.

Among the dailies, I count 9 titles: San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco City Star, San Francisco Daily, Palo Alto Daily News, San Mateo Daily Journal, San Mateo Daily News, Burlingame Daily News, East Bay Daily News and Redwood City Daily News.

And if that weren't enough, the region boasts several very readable alt-weeklies: SF Weekly, Bay Guardian, East Bay Express, Metro (San Jose) and The Bohemian. Plus a number of community weeklies too numerous to name even on a Web site.

MONEY IN TOILETS: There is more print media in the Bay Area than one can imagine. Perhaps it's due to the perceived weakness of the perennial paid dailies of the region, the Hearst-owned San Francisco Chronicle, MediaNews Group's San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa (County) Times, and the New York Times' Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Each of those paid dailies have their strengths, but they're also boring: How do they match headlines in the free press such as "The City may throw millions into toilets" (SF Examiner, Aug. 23). And on that same day, when the Chronicle was writing about high school seniors passing exit exams, the SF Daily's headline was "Seniors having plenty of sex, survey shows," referring to those who graduated from high school many decades ago.

While all of these free papers are fun to read, obviously some aren't making money. Denver oil billionaire Phil Anschutz owns both the San Francisco Examiner and the City Star. It was the first place I headed when I arrived in town. It's right across from the bus station. The guard didn't let me past his podium, however.

EXAMINER CAN'T SURVIVE: But on the phone, an account executive told me the Examiner's circulation was 160,000 a day. I asked her how many pages, and she claimed the average page count was 60, though the three days I was there, it never got above 48. Still, assume it's 60. It would cost at least $9,000 a day to print that big of a paper (assuming newsprint at $610/ton), which comes to $2.9 million a year.

Assume the Examiner's payroll approaches $3 million a year (30 people at $100K including benefits), and the Examiner is at least a $5.9 million operation. With rent and other expenses, maybe $7 million.

So I take a rate card and go through a week of issues. Most of the pages are entirely editorial with no ads, or just house ads. On the 20 or so ads in every issue, assuming that the Examiner got top dollar on every ad, and assuming that every movie ad was paid (Anschutz is the nation's biggest movie theater owner), the Examiner generates perhaps $1.7 million a year in billings (and that's being generous).

I know Anschutz is rich, but how long will he put up with those kinds of losses?

Sadly, when you walk through residential areas, you see doorsteps with Examiners in plastic bags piled up -- unread. Piles of them. That's bad advertising for free papers. It says the paper is unwanted. It makes me think of the lawsuits the Examiner is facing in Washington and Baltimore from angry residents who don't want the free paper.

READER DEMAND: Unwanted is not the term you'd apply to the SF Daily, whose blue newsracks were empty by noon each day and their paper is stuffed with ads. It's no exaggeration to say that 70 percent of their column inches are advertising, and they have many more advertisers than the Examiner, which has been in San Francisco since the Civil War. Clearly the SF Daily is making money.

Publishers Dave Price and Jim Pavelich seem to have the touch when it comes to attracting readers and advertiser. You see people reading it in restaurants, shops and even people stopping by racks to grab a copy — perhaps because they don't have an internet edition.

But getting in touch with them proved to be impossible during my three-day visit. Here's what Amsterdam professor Piet Bakker found when he visited the SF Daily. And here's a local TV story about them.

The SF Daily had its share of hard news stories, but also things that made me laugh out loud like "Bullwinkle blamed for climate change" -- a story about how a moose belch would equal the greenhouse-gas output of a car going 20,800 miles. Or a horoscope that tells Aries readers: "If you drink, don't park. Accidents cause people." (Get it? It took me a minute!)

In the mid-1990s, Price and Pavelich started the Palo Alto Daily News, a paper about 30 miles south of San Francisco in a suburb best known for being the home of Stanford University. In the 10 years that they owned that paper, they started separate editions in San Mateo, Redwood City, Burlingame and Berkeley. They're now owned by MediaNews Group, which also owns a number of other Bay Area papers.

The battle of the free dailies in the Bay Area is just that -- a battle. We didn't even bring up the free weeklies, which were more interesting than alt-weeklies we've seen in other cities. It will be interesting to see who wins this battle of attrition.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Metro not amused by humor columnist

New York Magazine reports that Metro International has fired humor columnist Elliott Kalan, who is also a segment producer at "The Daily Show," for writing a column headlined “Newspapers: Information’s Horse & Buggy." Kalan wrote:
    “Nobody reads newspapers anymore … As this very copy of Metro shows, the only way to get most people to read a newspaper is to literally force it into their hands.”
The magazine quotes an unnamed Metro staffer as saying Kalan’s column was read by Chris Spalding, the interim CEO of Metro International (which was founded in Stockholm), who was in New York on business.

“Our New York publisher, Daniel Magnus, said that the CEO told him we had to fire Elliott immediately,” says the staffer.

Kalan told the magazine that he doesn't really know why he was canned. "My assumption is that the wrong person saw it and didn’t get the joke. They’re very straightforward people, the Swedes,” said Kalan. Metro didn’t return the magazine's calls for comment.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Web site aims to stop Examiner delivery

Fed up residents in the Baltimore area have created a Web site,, in an attempt to stop the Examiner from being delivered to their homes. We can't tell who is behind the Web site but we were tipped off by a frustrated suburban Baltimore resident who saw an article we posted on the free paper's delivery problems and asked us for more information. Homeowners who are getting the Examiner thrown on their driveways against their wishes are also organizing a boycott of Examiner advertisers.

Here are some of the stories we have run previously on the Examiner's circulation complaints:COMMENTARY: Our position on this is that while we wish the Examiner and other free dailies success, this festering problem will not only damage the Examiner but the entire industry. The Examiner needs to re-examine (pun intended) its business model and determine whether the hostility it is creating is worth it. We would hate to see the communities surrounding Baltimore enact laws prohibiting this type of distribution. Such laws could spread across the country, affecting other free papers, including those that respect the rights of homeowners.

Rival sues new free daily in North Carolina

The publishers and several staffers at paid papers in two North Carolina cities have quit to start their own free daily -- but now they're being sued by the owner of their former papers.

The new free daily is called The Messenger. It started July 9 and operates five days a week, delivering to homes. The Messenger is based in Mount Airy, N.C., a city of about 8,500 people and the birthplace of Andy Griffith. Many believe the charming small town of Mayberry in his 1960s TV show was based on Mount Airy.

Many of the staffers for the new paper come from the Mount Airy News and The Tribune of Elkin, N.C. Elkin is a town of 4,100 in the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains about 20 miles south of Mount Airy near I-77. Both cities are in the same county.

In June, a chain of 32-papers, Connecticut-based Heartland Publications, bought the 9,200-circulation dailiy Mount Airy News and tri-weekly, 6,000-circulation Tribune from Mid-South Management Company.

Soon Heartland began cutting staff, and on June 18 Michael Milligan resigned as publisher of the Mount Airy News and Rebel Good resigned as publisher of the Elkin Tribune after 29 years, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Milligan is publisher of the new paper and Good is editor. One report said 14 employees of the two Heartland papers came along with them.

A July 4 story in the Winston-Salem paper said:
    Employees at The Mount Airy News say they haven’t paid a lot of attention to what Milligan and Good are up to.

    “Whatever they do doesn’t impact the notion or intention that we’re going to put out a great paper,” said Gary Lawrence, the new publisher of The Mount Airy News, who is also the chief-operating officer of Heartland Publications southern division.
Things changed quickly, however, when Heartland sued Milligan and Good, claiming the pair took key employees and information with them to start The Messenger, a July 7 story in the Winston-Salem paper said. The suit alleged that the two were planning the new paper while working at their old jobs, and that they recruited employees and manipulated the emotions of the remaining workers "so that they would walk out en masse" on June 18 in an attempt to undermine the two paid papers.

Heartland asked the court for an order stopping Milligan and Good from publishing the new paper, as well as hiring former employees of the two Heartland papers. Heartland also wanted to stop the new paper from contracting with its customers.

It appears Heartland didn't get very far in its lawsuit. The new paper has been publishing without interruption and a judge July 16 refused the chain's request to speed up the disclosure of documents in its lawsuit, the Winston-Salem Journal reported. The Messenger's attorney said Heartland's allegations are false and just an attempt to derail the new publication. The next hearing in the case is set for Sept. 10.

It's a nasty case for a town many think of as Mayberry. Where is Sheriff Taylor when we need him?

(Both photos are by Kate Lord of the Winson-Salem Journal.)