Freesheets, free dailies, free papers

In the discussion about the consequences of the recession for the press, free newspapers are often mentioned as a possible ‘first casuality’ mainly because they are totally dependent on advertising. But in these discussions the different free models tend to be confused.

Already some weeks ago Kristine Lowe reacted to a ‘lazy journalism’ article in FT about the problems of Mecom and the possible relation of these problems with the fact that Mecom owns so many free papers. She rightly pointed out that is no such relation. Mecom’s problems come from huge debts and  not from free newspapers. On the contrary, Wegener, Mecom’s Dutch branch is makng lots of money with their free weekly local newspapers, mainly because they have a monopoly in almost every market they’re covering.

In Denmark, Mecom onwed free daily Dato (closed down within a year) and still operates free daily Urban. In Poland and Norway Mecom owns free non-dailies.

The problem here is that two models are confused: the local free weekly – the ’shopper’ – and the metropolitan free daily newspaper. Both models are free, but similarities are few in fact.

In a column in the online Guardian Roy Greenslade confused the two models as well:

It is also clear evidence that the day of the free newspaper is over as the recession deepens. The business model for freesheets just doesn’t make sense as more and more advertisers withdraw.

In the UK many free weeklies have stopped publication in the last years, but these were mostly second papers in the local market. Both models – metropolitain dailies & local weeklies – may have problems in the recession (as all newspapers have), but as the business model, their readership, their distribution and their competition position is totally different, grouping them together seems to blur the picture instead of clearing it up.

One Response to “Freesheets, free dailies, free papers”

  1. Wilf Says:

    Thanks for making the distinction. This is why when talking about free daily newspapers, I never use the derogatory word “freesheets” – which refers free classified non-daily publication carrying little or no editorial.

    By definition, this type of product are having hard time due to the migration of classifieds to online. craiglist, blabla…

    Moreover door-to-door distribution is sub-optimal in terms of RPC, so it costs a lot in print and paper. Anyway, they are not newspapers since they don’t have news.

    Free dailies on the other hands are newspapers, although of a different kind: they don’t suffer from circulation and readership decline like paid for as such – since they decide themselves their level of circulation.