Thursday, March 15, 2007

Free dailies add to newspaper woes

As if things weren't ugly enough for metro dailies, more free daily papers appear to be on the way.
It’s already started in Europe. It's about to arrive in the U.S. It's what's fast becoming a global war between traditional paid newspapers and the hordes of free dailies sprouting up in cities worldwide.

It's an ugly fight, and it threatens to transform American newspaper publishing when it arrives.

Imagine a typical newspaper market in America, with one or two paid dailies and perhaps a subway freebie. Now imagine a handful of free papers joining the scramble to win readers and advertisers.
There already are free dailies in several big cities, including a whole chain of Examiners (SF, Baltimore, Washington, with more planned). Now an Icelandic media company is opening a Boston paper, with plans to expand, and not just in the biggest markets.
But they will surely come. "The prognosis is that there will be more free dailies in America-- whether through the Examiner (delivered to homes) model, or through the street/hawker/pick-up model (Quick - Dallas, Red Eye - Chicago, Express - Washington), or via hybrid distribution in smaller markets. The trend to free is inevitable."

What's less clear is who will survive and who not when the shakeout comes.
It's a market that is already fragmented, facing declining usage, and with signicant (and growing) competition for customers' time and attention. For retailers and manufacturers offering trade promo money to retailers, the question has to be: How can we reach a mass market through advertising, when the media keep slicing the market thinner and thinner?

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