Value of afternoon free papers in doubt

It is too early to say whether afternoon free newspapers like London Lite and thelondonpaper will be a success in the long term, according to a new report on the development of the industry.

The Innovations in Newspapers 2008 World Report, released last week at the World Newspapers Congress in Gothenberg, said that though free newspapers have been the industry’s runaway success story of the last ten years, it cast some doubt on the viability of London’s two evening freesheets and also questioned the part-free strategy of papers like the Manchester Evening News, which currently gives away 100,000 copies for free in the city centre.

The chapter on free papers by Carlos Campos, a consultant at the Spanish Innovation International Media Consulting Group, said they have attracted younger readers, women, immigrants and those on low incomes in a way that paid-for papers have not been able to and have spawned 200 titles in 55 countries worldwide. The market has gone from none to ’70 million readers a day in 13 years”.

The UK’s own Metro, launched in 1999 by Associated Newspapers, is the second largest free newspaper in the world, with a daily distribution of 1.35 million copies in May across the country.

Campos said: ‘The freesheets have attracted a huge new audience to newspapers, one that is heavily female, and younger than the average newspaper readers, with a demographic similar to that of television. Advertisers recognise this new market.”

Campos said that readers liked the ‘clean design and lay-outs’and that the lack of editorial opinion meant the papers could not clash with a reader’s point of view.

But the distribution model of frees has been their real success. ‘One key advantage of the free press has been its ability to bypass the rigid and often atrophied distribution channels of the paid press,’he said.

Handing out papers at train stations and on the street leaves people ‘with little choice but to pick up the paper and start reading”. Campos added that with frees ‘distribution seeks the reader rather than the traditional pattern of readers seeking the newspaper”.

But he warned that free papers could not survive when ‘four or more large-circulation titles chase the same advertisers and readers in the same place”.

Campos claimed that it was ‘too early to call’whether financial papers such as London’s City AM would be a success or whether publishers would make a success of part-free models, like the Manchester Evening News and the Liverpool Echo, which give away their papers in city centres.

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