Free papers are fizzling, too
After expanding explosively for a dozen years, the total circulation of free dailies around the world grew at an “all-time low” of 5% in the first eight months of this year, says Piet Bakker, a professor at Hogeschool Utrecht in the Netherlands.
Piet, who blogs at Newspaper Innovation, says the worldwide circulation of free newspapers rose by more than 200% as recently as 2000 and even grew at a brisk 23% in 2007, ending the year at a record 47 million copies per day.
But growth fizzled this year and the outlook isn’t bullish. “Considering the [known] plans for the next months, a fast recovery is not expected,” he says.
Evidence is mounting that the market for free papers is becoming saturated.
Piet says more than 200 free dailies are being published in some 50 countries, making for an average of four papers per country. “In 2003, there were three titles per country,” he reports. “In 1999, it was two.”
Meanwhile, there’s a report that one prominent freebie may succumb to the sagging U.S. advertising market.
Metro International, by far the largest publisher of free papers in the world, may be getting close to shutting its New York edition after failing for the better part of a year to either sell the paper or find an equity partner, according to the Sunday Times of London.
Metro, which loses money despite (or because of) distributing 23 million free papers daily in 23 countries, began publishing free dailies in Philadelphia in 2000, Boston in 2001 and New York in 2004. The New York Times Co. is a 49% partner in the Boston edition, but Metro is on its own in the other two markets.