The Chicago metro area has 9.5 million residents. So instead of delivering a Saturday edition to every one of them, RedEye is launching a consumer awareness campaign to promote the opportunity to receive the free home-delivered weekend edition by registering online at redeyeweekend.com or by calling a toll-free number. RedEye also will be delivering samples of the issue to encourage registration in selected zip codes.
RedEye currently distributes approximately 150,000 copies of each weekday edition throughout Chicago through more than 3,000 outlets, including newspaper boxes, train stations and select retail outlets. RedEye's weekly readership reached 685,500 in 2006, up nearly 20 percent from 2005. It is expected to deliver up to 100,000 copies of the new weekend edition.
RedEye is owned by the Tribune Company, which announced in 2006 that the free daily was profitable. RedEye started in 2002 as a paper designed to capture younger readers. Quickly, the rival Chicago Sun-Times launched a copycat called the Red Streak. The Sun-Times pulled the plug on the Streak in December 2005. The Sun-Times is a tabloid and is often sold in stores next to the RedEye. Obviously some readers have decided to pick up the free daily rather than pay for the Sun-Times and Sun-Times Publisher John Cruickshank admitted last fall that sales of papers bought from news racks or stores "has been really hit by RedEye."
- COMMENTARY: Here's an argument for why RedEye should be considered the nation's most successful free big-city daily.
By the way, there should be a distinction between free "big-city" dailies and those serving small or mid-sized towns. There are many successful and profitable free dailies serving small and mid-size towns. But in big cities -- New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, Baltimore -- RedEye was the first to make money.
In fact, of the 12 English-language free dailies in those seven cities, the only other one to reveal it was in the black was amNewYork, which is a Tribune property like RedEye. The others seem to be struggling.
A columnist at the San Francisco Examiner wrote last week that his free daily was "new and experimental." But Anschutz bought the Examiner three years ago and launched its current format soon thereafter. How many years does it take to know if an experiment worked? Guess they wouldn't be calling it "experimental" if it was profitable. How long will owner Phil Anschutz, a billionaire oilman, keep experimenting?
Metro International, with editions in Boston, New York and Philadelphia, admitted that it lost $3 million in its U.S. operations in the first quarter, up significantly from the $2.4 million loss in the same quarter in 2006. At one time, Metro had ambitions to launch editions in every big city in the U.S. — kind of like talk we're hearing from the backer of the new BostonNOW free daily, the Icelandic phone company Dagsbrun, which wants to open "Now" papers in eight to 10 U.S. cities. Let's see if they make any money in Boston first.
Meanwhile, RedEye is not only making money, it is growing by printing more papers and adding distribution points. Now this new Saturday edition which will allow it to expand its advertising base by enabling it to offer preprints. We don't know of another more successful metro free daily in the U.S. than RedEye.