MEN's free figures rise, but sales are forecast to fall 10,000

Following the Manchester Evening News's part free, part paid-for strategy, the paper's free city centre edition exceeded expectations with 10,000 more being picked up than predicted.

The paper is now distributing 60,000 free copies in the city centre compared to estimates of 50,000, according to ABC research released on Wednesday.

However, sales of the paid-for editions are predicted to drop from 130,000 to 120,000.

Part of the decline is due to the 7,000 paid-for copies previously sold in the city centre becoming free, and also due to a number of price hikes including Friday's paper which went from 10p to 35p. Friday is one of the worst hit days in terms of sales.

Editor Paul Horrocks said the paidfor circulation is likely to continue to slide and, as it does, it will be supplemented by free copies.

He said: "The reduction in paid-for copies will continue to be replaced and supplemented by additional free copies.

Nobody is saying here that the paid-for sale is going to stop declining.

"What we are saying is as they decline, we will up the frees. I don't see all our papers going free in the near future, but inevitably it is going in that direction.

"And as we expand the whole free distribution network we see a market where casual readership is free, but consumers still pay for the convenience for, say, a home delivered service."

Horrocks said the MEN's combined distribution/circulation of the free and paid-for is on course to reach 200,000 by the end of 2007.

According to the MEN's newspaper sales department, the greater effect on the paid-for is likely to be due to the price rises rather than the city free.

The department looked at the effect on sale prior to going free, taking into account the 7,000 lost in the city centre, and concluded the greater decline was due to the price rise.

Horrocks added: "Looking back, when we made this decision we said it was a bold move, and we are still waiting to see the final outcome over the coming years. However we feel it's a great start."

The research by CBA Research Consultants also revealed that most MEN city centre readers are five-day-aweek commuters aged between 15 and 44 years, and seven out of 10 readers of the free edition are ABC1.

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