Friday, April 27, 2007

BostonNow starts -- city's 2nd free daily

Russel Pergament (pictured) says he didn't start the free daily BostonNow in order to get revenge on Metro Boston, the paper he started in 2001 and left in 2003. He tells Boston's Phoenix, an alt-weekly, that he quit Metro: “It stopped being fun. ... If you don’t speak Swedish, they’re a bit of a talent repellent. I’ll say that for the record. What the f*%@.” Besides taking on Metro, he hopes to develop a new newspaper business model and reejoin his wife and son in nearby Newton after commuting to New York for three years where he headed Tribune's amNewYork. Pergament is CEO of 365 Media USA, the American media arm of Iceland's phone company, Dagsbrún, which hopes to have 10-12 free dailies in major U.S. cities one day. Photo by Matt Teuten from The Phoenix. At left is Thursday's edition of BostonNow.

Free daily conference planned for June

A first-of-its-kind conference for the free daily newspaper industry is being organized by Gansevoort Media, a newspaper product development company headed by former Metro International guys Henry Scott and Johan Hansson. The confab is set for June 18 and 19 in St. Petersburg, Fla., and is being hosted by the St. Petersburg Times, publisher of the free daily tbt* and the paid daily Tampa Bay Times.

Topics include distribution techniques, using reader-generated content, advertiser response, publishing in a non-commuter market and the latest from Europe, where the free daily trend is bigger. For more information on the conference, e-mail Gansevoort Media. The early bird regisration fee is $325 until Monday, April 30. Organizers have arranged for a special $179-a-night room rate at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club in St. Petersburg (pictured), where the conference is taking place.

The organizers also say that "attendance will guarantee a 10 percent discount on your membership in the Association of Free Daily Newspapers, which currently is in formation." No more information is available about this new group.

London's free dailies go into attack mode

The publishers of London's two new free dailies — Rupert Murdoch and Viscount Rothermere — are accusing each other of dumping papers and inflating their circulation, according to this report by Media Life Magazine. Rothermere's Associated Newspapers, which publishes the 400,000-circulation London Lite, accused Murdoch’s Thelondonpaper (500,000 circulation) of intentionally dumping papers. To back up the claim, Associated released a video purporting to show dumping by Murdoch's workers. That was followed by an ad campaign in which Rothermere's side called Thelondonpaper "the free paper they can't even give away."

Murdoch's Thelondonpaper then responded, issuing this statement: “Associated have a long history of using spoiling tactics to drive competition out of the London market. We have seen this before and it won’t work.” And as it turns out, Thelondonpaper says it too has pictures, those of London Lite distributors also dumping copies.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Locked out union workers start free daily

Who knows how long it will last, but union employees of Journal de Québec have launched their own free daily newspaper, MédiaMatin Québec, which will operate while they've been locked out due to a strike. Editor's Weblog reports that the first edition had a press run of 40,000, and the papers were hand-distributed by workers. The new paper will publish Monday to Friday with a focus on local news. "The expertise of all the locked-out workers, whether journalists or photographers, will be put to good use," said Denis Bolduc, spokesman for the locked-out workers. The union’s dispute with the paper is over the proposed addition of four hours to the workweek with no extra pay.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Metro, Daily Mail eye free dailies in India

India, which now just has one free daily (Metro Now in Delhi), may soon be getting two more.

India's Business Standard reports that Metro International, the chain with editions in more than 100 cities worldwide, hopes to launch an edition in India. Metro is negotiating with Indian publisher ABP, which publishes India's Anandabazaar Patrika and The Telegraph, both based in Kolkata. ABP is reported to be in the advanced stage of talks with the group, which is expected to take 26 percent equity stake in the venture with Metro.

Last month, the owner of the London Daily Mail, Associated Newspapers, announced it is forming a joint venture with India Today Group, with interests in magazine publishing and television channels, to launch a morning tabloid. The name of the new free paper and its start date have yet to be announced.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ouch! Metro goes from black to red

This is not pretty. Metro International, the chain that thought it knew everything about free dailies (heck, it claimed to have invented them -- 30 years after somebody else did), had a remarkable setback in the first quarter of this year. Metro has been gradually reducing its losses and reported a profit in the previous quarter, it's first profit since its founding in 1995. So it seemed that Metro was out of the woods, and the first large-scale free daily company was making money. Not so fast! In the first quarter of this year, Metro's loss was $14.3 million.

What were the causes? Parsing Metro's quartly financials, it appears:
    • Metro Sweden lost some ad reps, and they took some accounts with them. "Inadequate management" was also to blame, Metro says.

    • In Spain, where Metro faces a lot of competition from home-grown papers, advertisers are demanding lower rates.

    • "The U.S. market underperformed our expectations due to tough local market conditions."
Metro's other problem -- its CEO, Pelle Törnberg, has announced that he's leaving, and no successor has been named. It's a company adrift.

COMMENTARY: The fact that Metro is in trouble shouldn't be a cause of celebration by others in the free newspaper industry. Yes, Metro has been arrogant (remember the Philly transit scam?) and their papers have been terrible editorially. And they don't know how to sell.

But Metro, by virtue of the fact that it has editions in so many countries, generates headlines. If they go under, then the advertising industry might write off free dailies due to the sins of Metro.

Not only will Metro's troubles frighten advertisers, but what about those of us who rely on the capital markets for funding? Metro's problems will be projected upon us, even if we have been making money from the beginning.

Our hope, here at, is that Metro hires a strong, dynamic CEO immediately, and that the company finds a way to get back into the black. Perhaps that means closing some editions in the U.S. -- so be it. Financial discipline is important.

And a word to Dagsbrun, the Icelandic phone company that wants to roll out 10-12 free dailies in the next three years. Listen, billionaire Phil Anschutz had even grander plans -- 70 editions. He stopped at No. 3. His papers are all losing money. They also are having no impact on their audiences. (He has a conservative daily in San Francisco -- yet nobody there is reading Examiner editorials and deciding to recall Nancy Pelosi or Dianne Feinstein!). This isn't an easy business. And after a few quarters of bleeding millions of dollars, what will you tell your shareholders?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Shrout named as publisher of Metro Alberta

The new publisher of Metro's rollouts in Calgary and Edmonton, Steve Shrout, is both a longtime resident of the Alberta proviince and has a background in local advertising. Shrout most recently headed up sales at the oil trade pub JuneWarren and before that was at the Lethbridge Herald for six years, the last three as advertising director. Here's a link to the announcement about his hiring.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

BostonNow starts -- city's 2nd free daily

BostonNow, that city's fourth daily and second free daily, hit the streets Monday with a staff of 30 including 10 journalsits. BostonNow will rely on unpaid bloggers for some of its content.

BostonNow being bankrolled by the Iceland's phone company, Dagsbrun, which hopes to have 10 or 12 of them across the U.S. The new paper is being headed by Russel Pergament, who started Boston's other free daily, Metro, and then went on to start amNewYork before he was bought out by its owners, The Tribune Co., last year.

Gunnar Smári Egilsson, director of Dagsbrun, is quoted by Fréttabladid as saying he expects the paper to do about $15 million in sales annually. BostonNow plans to print 200,000 copies a day to compete with the 170,000 printed by Metro.

Dagsbrun has trademarked the names of nearly two dozen other cities, such as DenverNow. The Examiner group, owned by billionaire oilman Phil Anschutz, made a splash in 2005 when it obtained the internet domains for the Examiner name in 70 cities. That fueled speculation that Anschutz would roll out his paper across the country, too. However, he hasn't launched a new paper since February 2006.

The south Boston paid-daily, The Patriot Ledger, offered this description of the launch. Above is a photo by Steve Garfield of a meeting of local bloggers led by editor John Wilpers at the newspaper's offices. Wilpers was previously editor of the Washington Examiner.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Group slams first generation of free dailies

If you're in the free daily newspaper business already, the World Association of Newspapers thinks your paper sucks -- but that the "second generation" of free dailies will be much better. At least that's what WAN says in this April 16 article hyping its World Editors Forum, June 3-6 in Cape Town, South Africa. We quote:
    Free newspapers are everywhere, but most of them have little in common with traditional newspapers except for the paper they’re printed on. Little news, few employees, no opinion.

    But that is changing: the second generation of free dailies are competing on editorial quality with paid newspapers, often with relatively large staffs. As one free newspaper editor put it, "the new free newspapers will reintroduce the newspaper as a broad medium that will be able to compete with television and the net on readership."
Somebody needs to point out to WAN that the circulation of quality, paid newspapers is plummetting. Many are are on the brink of bankruptcy. The New York Times, for instance, has lost $800 million in the past 12 months.

Meanwhile, the first generation of free dailies is gaining circulation and growing in advertising revenues. Metro International is in the black, as is Chicago RedEye and a string of smaller free dailies in the U.S. in suburban communities.

And the paid, high-quality dailies -- such as the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and Dallas Morning News -- have launched free dailies of their own to protect their turf. The New York Times has even bought 49 percent of Metro's Boston paper.

Given this history, why would anybody in the free newspaper industry would need the advice of editors in the paid newspaper industry?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Rumor time -- Israel may get 2nd free daily

The tug-of-war between the two partners who own Israel's free daily "Israeli" is headed in an interesting new direction -- the partner who has been shut out of any control of the paper, American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, is on the verge of starting his own free daily. And that new paper would compete against the "Israeli," of which he owns half but is controlled by Shlomo Ben-Zvi. We caution that this is only a rumor, though it has come up a number of times (Haaretz, Poynter) in the past few months. For what it's worth, we're told that Adelson's plan is to buy the struggling Maariv and rebrand it, possibly with a new name, as a free paper to go head to head with the "Israeli."

A great resource on free dailies

As much as we'd like to sit here and pretend as if we were the ultimate source on free daily newspapers, we've got to tip our hats to Amsterdam professor Piet Bakker (pictured) and his "Newspaper Innovation" Web site. What impresses us about the site is its breadth of information about free dailies worldwide. Not only does he do a solid job reporting on this industry in Europe, but he has reports from all of the other continents. He must be working 24 hours a day.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Copenhagen paper won't show profit until 2010

Last November, Metro International closed its Copenhagen newspaper, leaving three free dailies in that city. One of the remaining papers, the Post (Nyhedsavisen) is "catching up" with its competitors and will show a profit by 2010, according to owner Dagsbrun, the phone company of Iceland. Three years is a long time, but Dagsbrun CEO Gunnár Smár Egilsson has patient shareholders who don't care about immediate returns. Dagsbrun plans to launch a chain of free dailies in the U.S. in the next year, all in cities with existing newspapers.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Free daily asks bloggers for help

The new free daily an Icelandic telecom is starting in Boston April 17 plans to use a lot of copy from local bloggers, according to the alt-weekly Boston Dig.

BostonNow's editors say that using liberal amounts of material from local bloggers will be a refreshing change from the vast amounts of wire copy served up by that community's other free daily, Metro Boston. At first bloggers won't be paid, but money is promised after a "probationary period." Others quoted in the Boston Dig story weren't so enthusiastic. “Just when you thought there was no possible way to pay less for copy than the Metro,” said Dan Kennedy, whose teaching at Northeastern University leans heavily on new blogging and new media. “This is just taking blogger content and putting it into the paper.”

The Boston Dig article also notes that Dagsbrun, the Reykjavik-based phone company that is bankrolling BostonNow, plans to have eight to 10 more "Now" papers up and running within two years. The publisher is Russel Pergament, who helped Metro International start its Boston edition and then launched amNewYork for Tribune Co. Pergament was bought out by Tribune in September.

Two kinds of free dailies

There are two kinds of free dailies -- those that make money and those that don't. The ones that don't make money include all of Metro International's U.S. papers (Boston, New York and Phily) and Phil Anschutz's Examiners (San Francisco, Washington and Baltimore). The newest addition to the money-making list is the 9,000-circ Santa Barbara Daily Sound, owned by 24-year-old Jeramy Gordon. The Sound has just celebrated its first anniversary and it became profitable 9 1/2 months after it started, the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club reports.

Gordon started small and is growing the paper -- from three full-timers to nine, from eight pages a day to 24. And that may be the difference between his paper and the big guys who are losing money. They started big, haven't been able to find a market, and are now forced to lose money or cut back.

Gordon has also been helped by the fact that the town's main daily newspaper, the Santa Barbara News-Press, has imploded in the past year. That paper's owner, a woman who got billions in a divorce, was caught meddling in the newsroom. Many of her staffers have quit. And some of those defectors have joined Gordon's staff.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Fox News wins round 1 in 'Red Eye' battle

Tribune Co. and Fox News are in court battling over the use of the name "Red Eye." Tribune uses "RedEye" (one word) as the name of its free daily in Chicago. Fox News has just started an overnight news show also called "Red Eye" (two words). And since both Red Eyes offer news and cater to younger demographics, Tribune decided to sue, saying it has the exclusive right to the term.

In Round 1 of this battle, U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo of Chicago denied a Tribune Co. motion that sought a preliminary injunction to stop from using the name. According to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times, Bucklo said that, as of now, the show and the tabloid are different enough that consumers are unlikely to confuse the two. An expedited trial is to begin in August.

Also, Fox has modified the name of its program from "Red Eye" to "Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld."

Morocco gets its first free daily

Devocean, a Web design company in Montreal and Casablanca, has started a French-language free daily called "au fait" ("to be informed" in English) in Morocco that has one reporter, two editors, seven sales people and 14 peddlers, according to the Arab Press Network. Only 10 percent of the paper's content is locally-generated, the rest coming from Agence France Presse or Maghreb Arab Press.

"We were surprised to see how quickly people were seduced, even if the concept of free newspapers was something completely unknown to them," said publishing director Réda Sedrati, 26. "People keep asking our peddlers, 'Are you sure, I have nothing to pay?' We also receive frequent calls from companies wishing to have au fait for their customers."

Monday, April 02, 2007

Metro starts edition in Edmonton

Metro Canada today has launched a 60,000 free daily in Edmonton which will go head-to-head with Sun Media's 24 Hours (24 Heures) and CanWest's RushHour. Metro Canada is a three-way partnership with equal portions owned by Metro International, TorStar and CanWest. Why CanWest is essentially competing with itself is anyone's guess. But now three cities in Canada have three free dailies — Calgary, Ottawa and now Edmonton.