The tide of free daily newspapers which started to spread across Europe after the launch of Metro in Sweden in 1995 is submerging the continent. What started as an innovative idea when online news was more a dream than a reality has become an act of desperation.
Publishers are frittering away money on the battles of the freebies: money which should be spent on the fight for survival (in print and/or online) of existing titles.
Kristine Lowe in Norway reports that Schibsted has launched a new free sheet, Punkt se, in Sweden. The same company owns 20 Minutes in France and Spain. It is expecting to loose Â£13.5 million before Punkt se breaks even.
In France it claims that 20 Minutes readership has overtaken Le Monde, giving it the country’s largest general interest daily readership (Kristine Lowe again). What “readership” means in this context is anyone’s guess.
Demark has some eight free newspapers fighting it out. In Spain recently I collected four mornings at one street corner in Valencia, all with broadly similar contentent. In London there are now two in the morning and two in the evening.
Roy Greenslade says the “intensely maddening aspect is to sit amidst a sea of newsprint on the tube”. He found another problem on a bus, writing:
I caught the 414 yesterday evening, from South Kensington along the Fulham Road, and found a pile of thelondonpaper on the luggage rack. Not one had been taken by a passenger. Later, I caught a District line tube and found scores of papers – Metros, thelondonpapers and London Lite – strewn along the carriage. I purposely changed carriages at two stations to see if the same was true throughout the train. It was. Unlike the bus experience, it did suggest they had been read – well, opened – but they had then been left on a seat to be moved by a later user and, gradually, dismantled. Stapling doesn’t always prevent pages coming loose.
Both Associated Newspapers (London Lite) and News International (thelondonpaper) are claiming success for their new launches. It is difficult to see what “success” means when there is scant evidence that the two evenings have real readerships in any known sense of the word.
It looks like a pointless battle, a diversion, when newspaper owners should be concentrating on the real battle online where the litter of dead tree journalism is not a problem.