Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sending the wrong message to advertisers


When free papers fail to provide the news readers desire, an unfortunate and ugly problem develops — waste. At subway and train stations, readers literally drop free papers on the ground. For publishers that force-feed their papers by throwing them on the driveways of non-subscribers, residents revolt and sometimes sue.

Discarded papers send an undesirable message to advertisers. The best course, obviously, is to limit distribution so that demand meets or exceeds supply. But that skill seems to be out of reach of many free dailies. And when waste exceeds the tolerance of the public, the government is only too happy to step in.

Under pressure, the publishers of the rival London afternoon freesheets have installed 70 recycling bins in central London to honor a deal struck with the London borough of Westminster, the Guardian reports. Associated Newspapers, publisher of London Lite, and Rupert Murdoch's London Paper, have each installed 35 bins at a cost of £500 each ($975 U.S.).

Says the London Guardian, "The mountain of discarded newspapers in the capital has been a big issue since the freesheets launched in September 2006, with councils in central London and London Underground complaining about the increased clean-up bill."

That's the kind of publicity that scares off advertisers. And considering how easy it is to avoid, it's a wonder free newspapers ever put themselves in a situation where they can be criticized for waste.