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West London weeklies going free

January 7th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Jobs, Newspapers

So it is speculatively suggested by Robert Peston’s sources that the Indy could go free, if Alexander Lebedev owned it (see Patrick Smith’s summary at this link) but in the meantime, there’s other freesheet news to report:

Trinity Mirror Southern is launching the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle as a free weekly title from the end of next week; the http://www.fulhamchronicle.co.uk online.

There’s one new job opening too: Trinity Mirror Southern is “in the process of recruiting an additional full time multimedia journalist” it said today.

The Kensington & Chelsea News is to become the Kensington & Chelsea Chronicle, and the Paddington, Marylebone & Pimlico Mercury will be re-born as the Westminster Chronicle – part paid for, part free distribution.

The London Informer will cease publication – but no jobs are affected, the company confirmed.

“The changes to our publishing strategy and the investments we are making will enable us to reach and inform a wider audience than ever before, which will in turn, benefit the local communities we serve,” said Simon Edgley, managing director of Trinity Mirror Southern.

“The regional press has always had a strong and proud tradition of keeping citizens informed about their communities and campaigning on local issues, and I believe the progressive steps we are taking here will considerably enhance our position in that hugely important role.”

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Independent.co.uk: Free London Weekly set to launch in 2010

December 1st, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Newspapers

The fate of the London Lite and thelondonpaper is not deterring a company called Global Publishing Group, which is preparing to launch a new freesheet, The London Weekly, on 1 February 2010, reports the Independent.

“Global Publishing – which describes itself as a partnership set up by five private investors last year – has raised about £10.5m to launch the title and plans to distribute 250,000 copies at Underground stations on Fridays and Saturdays.”

Its website is expected to go live later this month.  The Independent reports that the paper will seek reader material for about 30 per cent of its content.

Full story at this link…

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London Lite could close following consultation

October 27th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Job losses, Jobs, Newspapers

Associated Newspapers today announced that it is entering a period of consultation over the future of the London Lite, which could see the free evening publication close. Thirty-six London Lite employees will be consulted before a final decision is made, a statement said.

“The latest development in the London afternoon free newspaper space dictates that we look again at the future of London Lite. Despite reaching a large audience with an excellent editorial format, we are concerned about the commercial viability in this highly competitive area,” said Steve Auckland, managing director, Associated Newspapers Free Division.

In August, News International, the UK newspaper division of News Corporation announced that it would close thelondonpaper, its free evening newspaper launched in 2006.

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Jon Bernstein: Free is just another cover price

August 27th, 2009 | 10 Comments | Posted by in Comment, Newspapers

Apocryphal perhaps, but the story has it that Rupert Murdoch always wanted to charge for thelondonpaper.

When News International’s big boss was shown a dummy copy prior to the September 2006 launch, he apparently declared that the paper would easily justify a 10p cover price.

James Seddon, a member of thelondonpaper launch team, who recounts the tale on this blog, concludes:

“If he didn’t get ‘free’ then, it’s no surprise he dropped the paper when times were tough.”

Given Murdoch’s current fixation with finding a way to generate revenue online, it would be tempting not only to conflate thelondonpaper decision with a general trend towards paid-for content, but also to assume the paper’s demise sounds the death knell for freesheets.

So let’s be clear about a few things:

  • thelondonpaper didn’t fail because it was free
  • it didn’t lose £12.9 million in a year because it was free
  • a 10p cover charge would not have saved it
  • its free-to-view website isn’t closing because it’s a threat to Rupert Murdoch’s paid-for plans.

Oh, and:

  • the freesheet isn’t dead

All newspapers, and the bulk of broadcast media around the world, adopt an ad-funded business model.

In some cases advertising subsidises the cost of production and the consumer pays a competitive price.

In other cases advertising covers those costs completely and the consumer gets to read, watch or listen gratis.

In both cases the advertiser is paying for the eyeballs and the reader, viewer or listener gets content for a fraction (or none) of the real running costs of the media business.

Rather than two distinct models, there’s a continuous line that runs from commercial radio, trade publications and freesheets to subscription satellite channels, consumer magazines and national newspapers.

Whether the content is free or has a nominal price attached is something of a moot point.

As web strategist Jeff Sonderman argued earlier this summer “newspaper folk haven’t actually charged for content since the 1830s.”

It was during that decade that subscribers stopped bearing the full cost of putting the paper together. Typically, says Sonderman, newspaper prices fell from six cents to one cent.

At a stroke, access to newspapers was no longer limited to those who could afford the luxury. He notes:

“For about 180 years, the retail price of a newspaper has never reflected the total cost of assembling and producing it. Any paper that tried to charge such a price (6x more) would lose circulation and be undercut by correctly priced competing papers.”

Murdoch’s 10p cover charge wouldn’t have saved thelondonpaper. It certainly wouldn’t have paid for production costs and circulation would not have justified a 500,000 print run.

So, thelondonpaper isn’t closing because the model was flawed, but because News International either couldn’t make it work in the current economic climate or was unwilling to give a paper, still in its infancy, the time it needed to become commercially viable.

Or, as David Prosser neatly put it in last Friday’s Independent:

“The surprise with thelondonpaper is that it has survived this long, especially as the title was launched for no real commercial reason other than to get up the noses of Daily Mail & General Trust, owner of Metro and London Lite.”

This is not the end of the freesheet even if it feels that way right now.

Certainly, London Lite could fold. After all, it too was launched for tactical reasons – a spoiler in a spiralling tit-for-tat between DMGT and News International.

Having effectively achieved those ends, its owners may conclude there’s little point in London Lite overstaying its welcome and queering the pitch for its stablemates.

But if London Lite does go, commuters beware – you’ll still be playing dodge the Metro/City AM/Shortcuts/Sport vendor for some time yet.

After all, free is just another cover price.

Jon Bernstein is former multimedia editor of Channel 4 News. This is part of a series of regular columns for Journalism.co.uk. You can read his personal blog at this link.

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FT.com: Freesheet model could be first to fail

March 18th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Newspapers

Once seen as the enemy of the paid-for newspaper, freesheets are not ‘in the frontline trenches of this war’, says Trinity Mirror chief executive Sly Bailey.

Their ad-based model makes them particularly vulnerable, says this article, which looks at the plight of free newspapers in Europe.

Full article at this link…

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Online Journalism Scandinavia: Metro Sweden’s deal with Schibsted part of its ‘Freesheets 2.0′ strategy

May 19th, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Journalism, Newspapers

Norwegian media giant Schibsted this morning announced that it’s paying £30m to take a 35 per cent stake in the Swedish edition of Metro International’s free newspaper.

In what is a key freesheet market the former rivals have forged a partnership to collaborate on advertising sales with the new company offering advertisers the chance to reach 4.2 million readers across the Metro and Schibsted paid-for dailies Aftonbladet and Dagbladet.

In February, Metro International CEO, Per Mikael Jensen, discussed his company’s strategic goals with Journalism.co.uk saying that consolidation and online innovation would be key for the development of his newspapers, in what he called the ‘freesheet 2.0 phase.’

“We are entering a freesheet 2.0 phase where we are consolidating our core business and looking at more ways to attract readers,” said Jensen, who succeeded Pelle Törnberg as head of Metro in 2007.

In Sweden, this consolidation will mean Schibsted will stop publication of its free paper Punkt SE with immediate effect so that the new joint venture can focus print advertising around a single free title.

The deal has similarities with the one Metro struck at the end of 2007, when it sold 60 per cent of its Czech operation to its competitor Mafra.

The freesheet giant is currently undergoing a strategic review, and when Journalism.co.uk spoke to him, Jensen said we could expect more deals of this nature.

Today, Jensen refused to rule out further consolidations when questioned by Danish media and said he expected dramatic changes in the Danish newspaper market in the coming months (but refused to go into details).

“We do not just sit there and wait for the strategic review to be completed, but implement strategy from day to day. Strategy is something we evaluate each month. Those who believe the strategic review we now are in the middle of will become some sort of bible, will be disappointed,” said Jensen in the interview with Journalism.co.uk.

In addition, Metro is looking to attract more readers online. It’s launching new versions of its websites in all its markets – it recently launched online for the first time in France – and will consolidate some of its editorial activities by creating an internal news agency in London which will serve all its editions.

Jensen is behind Metro’s new developments and alliances but he remains as pessimistic as ever about the future of paid-for printed newspapers.

“I would be very surprised if more than 25 per cent of today’s paid-for newspapers exist in ten years. Of the newspapers that will survive, many of them will be published online only, or make its paper edition free,” Jensen said.

The two newspaper giants may have forged a partnership in Sweden but they remain embroiled in a head-to-head competition over their market leading freesheets in France and Spain.

However, Metro International still has a lot of work to do to convince investors that its business model – the company is still loss-making even though it narrowed its first quarter net loss to £5.1 m – has a profitable future.

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Media Guardian: Independent ‘mulling free edition’

January 17th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Newspapers

The Independent is considering a free edition, according to rumours sweeping the media industry.

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