Albie Del Favero, publisher of The City Paper in Nashville, was candid when we asked him to discuss his free daily newspaper, saying it has been a struggle so far but that he's now making some progress. Free-Daily.com asked Del Favero the following questions:
Q: Your paper has been around since 2001, a competitor to the Tennessean — How is it going?
Del Favero: It's been a struggle since the very beginning and it's still a struggle, but we're beginning to make some progress. Part of our problem has been that we were started by and are now owned by two different individuals, neither of whom had any experience in the newspaper industry. We have also re-invented ourselves too many times and have never been consistent in the product that we deliver to either readers or advertisers.
Q: What can you tell me about sales in the past year?
Del Favero: We will probably close out 2007 flat or a little down against 2006. But that is more a result of internal problems and changes than it is a reflection on the acceptance of our product in the marketplace or the local economy.
Q: Is City Paper in the black?
Del Favero: No.
Q: How large is your staff? Please break it down by editorial, sales, circulation, production, etc.
Del Favero: Just under 40, counting sports stringers. We have 18 in edit, 5 in production, 3 in classified sales, and 7 in display sales, 1.5 in circulation and four in admin, including IT. We have several open positions in sales.
Q: What is your average daily page count?
Del Favero: We publish 24 pages Monday through Thursday and either 32 or 40 on Friday, which is our big real estate day.
Q: How do you distribute your product (by hand, thrown on driveways, placed in stores, work places, etc.)?
Del Favero: Place-based, primarily in office buildings, retailers and street boxes.
Q: Who is your target audience?
Del Favero: We are a general-interest newspaper, targeted primarily to well-educated adults aged 25-54 in our core county and contiguous suburbs.
Q: Since you started, what surprised you the most?
Del Favero: How little attention large retailers pay us, despite the declining reach and penetration of the Tennessean.
Q: Some critics of free dailies say they don't have the quality journalism you could find in paid dailies. What do you say to that?
Del Favero: I would say that you can't paint free dailies with a broad brush. Ask just about anyone in Nashville, particularly the movers and shakers in the community, and they'll tell you we do an infinitely better job of covering our local community, both in quality and quantity, than the Tennessean does.
Q: For publishers elsewhere in the United States, what have you learned that might help them put out a better or more profitable newspaper?
Del Favero: Since I'm not yet putting out a profitable paper, I'm not sure I'm qualified to dish out advice. But I would say that the key is that every market is different — I'm not sure there's a formula for free dailies, particularly in markets the size of Nashville and smaller, like there is for alt-weeklies or community newspapers. You've got to look for holes in the market, be able to zig when your primary competitors zag.
Here are some other profiles Free-Daily.com has done on start-up dailies: