The Demise of Freesheets: You Can’t Give Them Away

Before Twitter, free newspapers seemed a brilliant way for the internet generation to keep up. Abandoning cover price for advertising revenue alone looked like an economic model tailor-made for the digital era.

Free titles were launched around the world amid predictions that they would teach the net generation about newspapers. As proprietors ponder the value of Transport for London’s (TfL) new contract to distribute free daily titles on the tube their future looks less certain.

“Most of the local weeklies that have closed in recent months have been frees,” says Dominic Ponsford, editor of Press Gazette, “Given that they are entirely dependent on advertising you would think that free daily newspapers might be susceptible to recession, too.” The evidence is that they are.

Last week the pioneering free newspaper group Metro International (no relation to Britain’s own Metro) announced plans to sell newspapers in Italy and Portugal. Metro International’s 2008 annual report reveals that only nine of the company’s 20 publishing operations were profitable.

Analysis of the first quarter of 2009, published by the website, reveals that eight of its 13 majority-owned titles recorded losses.

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