Saturday, June 02, 2007

A big test for a free daily in Chicago

Chicago's two paid dailies — the Tribune (a broadsheet) and Sun-Times (tabloid) — have been in a war for decades. A few years ago, the Sun-Times stumbled badly when it submitted inflated circulation numbers to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The fraud was discovered in 2004 and ABC stopped releasing circulation reports on the Sun-Times at that point until the mess could be untangled.

So observers haven't been able to see whether the Tribune's free tabloid daily, RedEye, has been hurting Sun-Times. For its first three years, RedEye was being sold for 25 cents, but switched to free in September 2005.

Last fall, Sun-Times Publisher John Cruickshank admitted that "single-copy" sales (papers bought from news racks or stores) "as been really hit by RedEye," but no figures were available to show the impact.

On Friday, ABC issued its first post-scandal circulation report on the Sun-Times, as the Tribune reports. This report was for the October 2004-March 2005 period, before the RedEye switch from paid to free. Later this year, ABC is expected to release reports for the April-September 2005 and October-March 2006 periods, which will show how the Sun-Times has done in the face of free competition.