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June 02, 2008


Ivan Kirigin

But the Metro style papers offer the worst parts of mainstream media journalism. The killer app for old media is good reporting: in depth, on sight, long term trends, etc.

These free dailies offer nothing over blogs and the content is tripe. They shouldn't be the ideal that conventional newspapers try to live up to.

Newspapers should be more like blogs, celebrating the 'killer app' elements in addition to a stronger focus on personalities. That's when voluntary patronage (a model we at Tipjoy love), becomes more feasible.

Jack Jackson

I'm an American journalist working in Denmark. On my morning commutes by train, I have the chance to read not just one but four competing free dailies. And a lot of people do - also young people. Heck, they're lying around all over the place, you can't help but pick one up if you have nothing else to do.
That said, the journalism in these things is pretty bad. I'm always left with a sort of sick, empty feeling when I've been leafing through one. It's kind of like a pretentious US college newspaper mixed with the worst gossip rags mixed with sponsored articles. Today's Metro had 8 pages - plus most of the front page (overshadowing the car bombing of a Danish embassy in Pakistan) - dedicated to the new Sex in the City film.
I taught an intro to journalism class for freshmen at the local business school this spring. On the first day I asked the class how a local newspaper might cover a certain bit of news. "They'd look for the gossip angle," one student said. Nobody could come up with any other suggestions.
At least they knew what a newspaper was - thanks to the free dailies.
I just think what a wonder it would be like if the high quality, serious newspapers started putting free editions of their publication on the trains and in the community. Would (young) people pick them up instead?

Dr. Kushal Banerjee

Oops! I had never heard of "FREE" distribution of printed dailies as a routine.

In my home city, Calcutta (India), most of the English dailies have reduced thier prices, and some only offer free distribution for about a week only, that too in limited areas for their promotion.

It appears a new idea, but anyway it is going to increase the percentage of people who read the dailies.

Let's hope for the best,

Dr. Kushal Banerjee,


Free dailies are - unfortunatelly - ad dailies. Mostly. You cant say it is quality paper. So, ad revenues are growing, circulation too, by quality falling. Thats the cost of free in this case.

Piet Bakker

Click on the Piet Bakker - link, to check out the 'real' story about these 'wonderful' data.

Ian Betteridge

Unfortunately, on its 20 million claimed readers per day, Metro group is still making a loss (http://blogs.pressgazette.co.uk/wire/2951), cutting jobs (http://blogs.pressgazette.co.uk/wire/1843) and reportedly was even at one point looking for a buyer for its US titles (http://blogs.pressgazette.co.uk/wire/1596).

Sadly, "free" doesn't mean "money making".


As mentioned before, the quality of the free newspapers is horrible, they're probably doing more harm than good, taking down the average quality of journalism.

Not to mention the terrible waste of paper, and the litter they cause, weren't they banned in London for that reason?


The price of $1 or .50 of a major U.S. metro newspaper is still a bargain for those who crave paper in their hands. The New York Times for free on my Blackberry and laptop is unbeatable.


That's the point, jeff. I think the real, important question here is not whether something can be free, but what is the value of free. The value of free dailies, sorry, is lousy. Value of free NYT on Your Blackberry is much bigger than free daily, but here also we have question what value of free NYT gets NYT?
best regards

Ian Rhett

Does anyone have a one-slide explanation of The Long Tail principle? I need it for a powerpoint demonstration for a project I'm working on. (I've got a business case for a project that leverages the long tail, and I'd like to include it for those who don't immediately grok "the Long Tail" )

Chris- maybe you could post such a resource. Ha - your book in one slide.

If no one responds, I'll post one of my own design.


@ Ian Betteridge:

Free dailies aren't banned in London. Currently we have one morning freesheet, Metro (but nothing to do with Metro Group - the title was started by Associated Newspapers, the group who publish the longstanding (paid-for) daily title the Evening Standard; apparently they took Metro Group's idea and launched in the UK before Metro Group), which is stocked in dispenser bins in underground and railway stations by commercial agreement. We also have two afternoon freesheets, London Lite and thelondonpaper, which are handed out outside stations by 'vendors' in a somewhat pestering fashion.

There is also a daily business freesheet, City AM, and a weekly sports freesheet called, cleverly, Sport.

So, given all this paper, litter is an issue - I've heard that Metro has to pay to help clear up the copies left lying around in train carriages as part of their deal, but that could be rubbish (if you'll pardon the pun). The others titles just end up being dropped or stuffing bins.

Quality of content is also an issue. London Lite and thelondonpaper are published by rivals, but seem pretty much interchangeable to me. Metro isn't a lot better, IMO. Doing away with the paper and getting it sent to your Blackberry or iPhone won't change that.

Not quite sure why a free daily qualifies as a long tail business. I can't see anyone trawling their archives in the future, and advertisers pay for current circulation issue by issue, so you live or die based on your current audience, not future prospects.

It is a fine example of 'free' though, and underlines that while it might be fine to grab one in a fit of boredom (or maybe just to mop up spilled liquid in your train carriage), the premium model (like say buying the Economist or the Times) is a different experience. If you think back to Chris's cinema model (free movie with any purchase of coke and popcorn, but you have to pay extra for the comfy seats/bigger screen/dolby surround) it's pretty similar.

One concern is, how many 16-26 year olds (picking a demographic largely at random) would be interested in buying the Economist, as opposed to picking up a freesheet? To follow Ivan Kirigin's argument above, maybe we should just be grateful that people are reading something...

Of course, in the UK we also have the interesting model of the BBC, whose news and journalism products are pretty legendary (if somewhat variable in quality in real life) and free (in the sense of free-to-air, albeit funded by the taxpayer). The BBC has embraced digital (so much so that their iPlayer product is supposedly going to break the Internet, or at least UK ISPs) and their news products can be pulled straight on to your Blackberry or iPhone already.

Leda Beck

I just attended your talk in São Paulo, Brazil, but couldn't manage to talk to you afterwards. And now I can't find your email address to ask you a few questions for a story I'm writing for a Brazilian magazine about free culture on the web (movies, music, literature etc). Please make contact! Deadline is approaching... Thanks!

jeff jarvis

The Newspaper Innovation blog reports that 25 percent of free papers launched so far have folded. Not saying that indicates anything about the trend but a stat you'll want:


Given the widespread penetration of the Internet where there is a plethora of free news content available, it makes sense to me that free dailies would start to take market share from paid newspapers. The high failure rate also makes sense, because you probably have to hit a critical mass. In the long run it's going to be hard to compete with free, though I would agree with whoever said that free papers are often lacking in the quality of content.

Joe Chiang

I still think it's a matter of time before the newspaper meets its death. There are a few reasons to think so.

When the proportion of readers who read news online gets larger, advertisers will put more of their budget on these online dailies. This is enough to kill off the papers.

Also, newspapers do not have the advantages of tools like Technorati and Digg.

I was shopping in a bookstore the other day and I realized that books are surely going to outlast newspapers because people are collecting them as 'souvenirs'. Following the lead of Penguin Books, more and more publishers are putting more effort into making nice, collectable covers for books, especially the classics. Unless newspapers become 'works of art', they have no chance at all.


Works of art aye?

Including a nice big stylist poster sized picture/litho of a current event every day in a paper would be cool.


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Ian Betteridge

@Murph: I think you might be attributing the comment below mine to me, as I didn't mention anything about them being banned in London - I live in London, so I know they're not banned :)

Meanwhile, more evidence that Free dailies are a long way from being "the one bright light in the news paper industry" - Roy Greenslade reports that thelondonpaper may be being shut: http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/greenslade/2008/06/will_murdoch_jnr_close_thelond.html

Hugo Timmer

Free Dailies have been the bright light in newspaper markets worldwide the last few years, until: Metro International announced they went from black to red figures and had to sell some shares in their home market Sweden and Denmark to competing (paid-for) newspaper companies.

Biggest problems for freebies:
Easy to copy (especially by newspaper companies), low involvement from readers.

In Holland today there are four freebies, one Metro, two owned by paid for newspapers companies and one owned by a billionaire.

It is my estimation that the busines model of freebies is not yet developed well enough for a long run situation.

Hugo Timmer (www.pcm.nl ,dutch quality newspaper company) was part of startup team of Metro Holland competitor Spits

Selling Video Games

Free dailies seem like a grand idea to me. I always felt wronged when I had to pay for newspapers anyway.





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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Notes and sources for the book

FREE was available in all digital forms--ebook, web book, and audiobook--for free shortly after the hardcover was published on July 7th. The ebook and web book were free for a limited time and limited to certain geographic regions as determined by each national publisher; the unabridged MP3 audiobook (get zip file here) will remain free forever, available in all regions.

Order the hardcover now!