But I Thought Newspapers Couldn't Be 'Free'?

from the the-myths-the-dinosaurs-tell-you dept

We keep hearing from legacy newspaper folks how "news can't be free," as they look to set up paywalls and other such barriers to folks actually participating in the news process. And yet, as has been discussed time and time again, for most people the news was already effectively free. Subscription fees rarely (if ever) covered distribution and printing costs. The real money has always been in advertising. As if to make the point even stronger, it appears that the UK's free newspaper, the Metro, is doing phenomenally well, even as other newspapers struggle. The Metro has found its niche and they've taken to it. And it's not just about the "free" part of the newspaper. As the report notes, as the readership of the newspapers themselves have gone up (often during the daily commute), so too has the readership on the news organization's website. Apparently people are reading the news on paper while commuting, then once they get to the office, they are logging into the website to comment or share the stories with others. It's a lot tougher to do that with a paywall...


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  1.  
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    David Bolton, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 11:15pm

    Free Papers

    The Evening Standard is the London Evening Paper. For many years (since 1827 according to Wikipedia) it was a normal paid paper. Then it went free in October 2009 and circulation increased dramatically. At the time there were two free London papers that had been around since about 2005/2006 and both closed once the Standard went free. So the Standard is a great example of how giving away things free can make money.

     

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  2.  
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    Felix Pleșoianu, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 11:28pm

    Free newspapers? Nothing new.

    In Bucharest, we've had free newspapers distributed in the subway for years (they come and go). But we also have free magazines dedicated to the world of entertainment (from cinema to fancy bars). And free tourism magazines, for businesspeople (a friend of mine has edited a string of these over the years).

    Frankly, I think newspaper owners not getting this is a case of magical thinking. They don't really understand their business. Never did. They just went through the motions, like their predecessors for generations before them, and never really understood which part of it does what. As for the Internet... *cough*. Series of pipes, anyone?

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 11:48pm

    Too bad advertising is slime. It interferes in the transaction between me and my news provider by distorting correct valuations of the merchandise. Maybe I couldn't afford ad-free news. That would be too bad. I guess if that's the case I would rather have the option of adful news over none at all. But will you permit me to dream that I can shake the editor's hand and agree to buy his ad-free paper for a substantial but workable sum without tons of sludge and slime getting between us?

     

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  4.  
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    fabio, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 11:52pm

    Businesses have to make money, and with everyone deserting print for online, there go the profits with them. It's the obvious solution. Why should everything be free after all? It's lovely for the reader, but disastrous for the proprietor. These are tough times.

     

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  5.  
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    Josef Anvil (profile), Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 12:27am

    US Version

    In the US there is a free weekly called The Chicago Reader. When it comes out, if you are not fast you won't get a copy. I have no idea whether it's profitable or not, but as a "reader", I look forward to it.

    Seems to me if you do it right, free is a very good business model.

     

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  6.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 1:04am

    Re:

    Businesses have to make money, and with everyone deserting print for online, there go the profits with them. It's the obvious solution. Why should everything be free after all? It's lovely for the reader, but disastrous for the proprietor. These are tough times.

    Um. Did you even read the post? It seems to disprove your entire comment.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 1:04am

    Re: Free Papers

    I work in Central London, which is obviously a key distribution point for both the Metro and the Evening Standard, and I'd say I've seen more people handing out free newspapers than used to sell them. Which again is fairly obvious because their readership has massively increased.

    So, not only do they give away a free paper, they make more money through advertising and they create more jobs to boot.

    The free paper game is so popular in London there seems to be a new player each month trying to give you something for free. But I'm sure the pro-IP crowd will be in shortly to explain how this is nonsense and we're all thieves.

     

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  8.  
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    Frosty840, Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 1:32am

    Re:

    Well, you can't do that with TV, even if you purchase it on disc. The only way to get TV without embedded advertising is usually to steal it.

    Good call, copyright enforcers!

     

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  9.  
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    The eejit (profile), Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 1:40am

    Re:

    Yuo've obviouly missed the part where the Manchester Evening News has a free and a paid component, and is making more money now than it did solely as a pay-for paper. The Metro is awesome, but only for the Nemi strips!

     

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  10.  
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    mediamogul, Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 1:51am

    For those too lazy to read the entire Guardian piece, read these carefully:

    "Journalists might well say that there is precious little editorial innovation. Evidently, there are plans for a refreshment of some kind, but this is unlikely to be revolutionary because, to be frank, the paper has nailed down a formula that works. Why change a paper that does its job?

    Its straightforward, non-political news digest manages to hold the attention of the average commuter in 50 cities across Britain (and in the Irish capital). "

    "Anyway, rather surprisingly, the Metro site has trebled its traffic, achieving 3.5m uniques in November 2010 for example. One reason for the increased interest is the site's expanding gambling and gaming unit."

    "But the lessons of Metro and the Standard (and, arguably, City AM) do suggest that the free model has legs, at least in London and within a paper such as Metro created from within the capital."

    "Metro, by its nature, is never going to set the political agenda. Big government and big business do not fear its reporting. It doesn't break new journalistic ground.

    It offers readers bland, passive, reactive journalism. Clearly, some people are happy with that. But it is passionate, committed, investigative pro-active journalism that makes a difference to and for society."


    "Though a profitable, free advertising vehicle is all very well, it remains essential for us to maintain newspapers that dig and delve. I am happy for Metro to exist, but not at the expense of "real" newspapers."

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 2:28am

    Re: Re:

    You must have missed the story about Apple shutting down business on their platforms unless they get a 30% cut.

    That's what the other businesses aspire to and it's getting more and more common.

    It's clearly a fallacy to assume that because "free" has devastated many businesses that it competes with, it must therefore be a business model that will be significant in the future - that's unlikely to happen as should be obvious to anyone watching the controls that are being imposed on access to the internet from pretty much every big business in America.

     

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  12.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 2:53am

    Re: Re: Re:

    You must have missed the story about Apple shutting down business on their platforms unless they get a 30% cut.

    That's what the other businesses aspire to and it's getting more and more common.


    Yes, that must be why Android -- an open platform -- just surpassed Apple's iPhone operating system.

    It's clearly a fallacy to assume that because "free" has devastated many businesses that it competes with, it must therefore be a business model that will be significant in the future

    No one said free itself is the business model of the future. Don't stop your brain when you see the $0. We're saying that free *as a part of a business model* absolutely makes sense in many, many cases, specifically when dealing with information.

    that's unlikely to happen as should be obvious to anyone watching the controls that are being imposed on access to the internet from pretty much every big business in America.

    I have no idea what you're talking about, as I'm seeing a trend in the opposite direction.

     

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  13.  
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    ethorad (profile), Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 5:18am

    Re:

    I think his comment at the end should be reworded to refer to *journalism* rather than newspapers.

    After all, what he's decrying is investigative work - he's just trying to conflate that with his employer, who presumably he counts as a real newspaper since they charge.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 5:24am

    Re: Re: Free Papers

    Shut this man up!!! SHUT HIM UP!!!

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 5:39am

    Re: Re: Free Papers

    But I'm sure the pro-IP crowd will be in shortly to explain how this is nonsense and we're all thieves.

    Were you always so whiny, or did it just happen recently?

    Seriously. If a company wants to give their product away (including newspapers, books, music, movies, or pictures of their dogs), they can do it and more power to them. If that is what they see as their business model, off the go.

    The problem is when a company has a business model that doesn't involve giving their product away, but other people decide to give it away for them.

    If you cannot understand that simple difference, the rest of the discussions here are lost on you.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 5:46am

    Re:

    As long as you have enough density, a high enough ratio of readers in one place that allows you to do the distribution at a reasonable cost, then these sorts of papers can work. Metro papers run in many cities around the world, always focused almost exclusively on underground public transit systems. These are choke points for the morning commute, and allow them to easily distribute a huge volume of papers using very small amounts of staff.

    The risk for all of these papers is saturation of the advertising market and a slip in ad rates. In the last couple of years in the US we have seen plenty of magazines and such fold from lack of advertising, even the TD fave Wired almost bit the big one, it got as skinny as possible.

    They are also at risk because they have a symbiotic relationship with public transit. If the authorities decide to change the rules like making it illegal to hand out printed materials within 100 yards of a subway entrance or charging them 10p per paper as "garbage collection fee", these models would all fail fairly quickly. They depend on a large and fluid flow of potential readers and the "stuff it in their hands" method for distribution. If any of those things get disturbed, these papers all disappear overnight.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 5:54am

    So Mike, let's hit a more serious question:

    What is actually in the free newspaper?

    If they are anything like the free newspapers I get here, they are big on pictures, small on text, and pretty much eveything is wire stories printed verbatim. There is rarely if ever a story featured that isn't just newswire stuff, although the front page story usually is written in house (with newswires credited as sources).

    I think you may be confusing the end result (newspaper) with the product (news).

     

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  18.  
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    Jay (profile), Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 6:18am

    Re: Re: Re: Free Papers

    And someone else that missed the point entirely...

     

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  19.  
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    Jay (profile), Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 6:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Perhaps s/he means things such as the ICE takedowns, the AG police, and the big Google effect on taking down the word "torrent"?

     

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  20.  
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    Jay (profile), Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 6:23am

    Re:

    "Apparently people are reading the news on paper while commuting, then once they get to the office, they are logging into the website to comment or share the stories with others."

    I think you may be confusing the end result (convenience) with the product (free advertising)

     

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  21.  
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    E6 London, Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 6:59am

    Gawd bless the Metro

    I've been reading Metro for nearly 10 years now. It hit's the right spot when you're half asleep on the way to work and you want a quick brush up of the news and any quirky articles you haven't seen on the web the day before.

    It doesn't seem to have an agenda like most papers these days (although it does seem a bit pro-gay) and reading it is easy.

    Yes it doesn't have breaking edge journalism but given how half of London can barely speak English it doesn't really need it.

     

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  22.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 7:28am

    Re: Re: Re: Free Papers

    "But I'm sure the pro-IP crowd will be in shortly to explain how this is nonsense and we're all thieves."

    LOL ... he was so right ... so explain to us how this is nonsense again ...

     

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  23.  
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    Chris Rhodes (profile), Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 7:30am

    Re: Re: Re: Free Papers

    The problem is when a company has a business model that doesn't involve giving their product away, so they enlist the help of government force to make sure that their business model remains profitable.

    Fixed that for you.

     

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  24.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 7:35am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "that's unlikely to happen as should be obvious to anyone watching the controls that are being imposed on access to the internet from pretty much every big business in America."

    You mean the content and distribution industries right?

    Truthfully it won't last. In ten to twenty years they will gone. Probably sooner with all the mistakes they are making.

     

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  25.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 7:37am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "that's unlikely to happen as should be obvious to anyone watching the controls that are being imposed on access to the internet from pretty much every big business in America."

    You mean the content and distribution industries right?

    Truthfully it won't last. In ten to twenty years they will gone. Probably sooner with all the anti consumer, and business mistakes they are making.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 9:14am

    Re: Re:

    I think he did, and was merely lamenting on the advertisment load in things like 'metro'. His argument is that an added value could be to pay for non-advertised versioned. On the other hand, even magazines you 'buy' are full of advertisement so I'm also a bit at a loss where he was heading to/off/from.

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 9:59am

    Re: Re:

    Jay, I don't disagree. But Mike's assertion is that this proves that "news can be free". But it doesn't do that at all. Rather, it proves that some of these free papers have managed to obtain enough advertising dollars to subscribe to newswires. The news still isn't free, they are paying for it.

    All these people have done is prove that (at least for the moment) they can pay the newswire, typeset, and print a newspaper cheap enough to be covered by the ads.

    In the end, the news isn't free. Mike is just purposely ignoring how it is getting paid for.

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 1:21pm

    Here in Portland OR nobody reads a paper on the train or the bus. I'd say 40% (myself included) are Smartphoning it, another 20% are reading/listening to music, 1-2% have ebooks, and the rest are zombies awaiting brains.

     

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  29.  
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    aikiwolfie (profile), Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 4:11pm

    The Metro is a great paper. It's been going for years. Covers a wide verity of news and it's free to pick up and read.

    The really big advantage the Metro has over other papers is that people are happier to share it. They read it on the bus or the train and then leave it on the seat when they're done. Other people can then come along and read it. Increasing the exposure advertisers get.

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2011 @ 2:28am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Yes, that must be why Android -- an open platform -- just surpassed Apple's iPhone operating system"

    Everyone knows that free itself isn't the business model, but don't stop your brain when you see $0. There is no specific charge for iOS but Apple makes plenty of money and this can be compared to the business model for Android, but haven't you noticed that it costs a lot more now than it did even 5 years ago ?.

    Extracting money from punters is the key, and that directly implies that while "free" has caused major disruptions there will be a lot less "free" in the future.

    "I have no idea what you're talking about, as I'm seeing a trend in the opposite direction."
    Your confusing the Masnick religion with objective reality .. try extracting you head !.

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2011 @ 7:11am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Free Papers

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. Please don't put your BS in my mouth, it tastes terrible.

    The problem is when a company has a business model that doesn't involve giving their product away, they get demoized by the freetards who can't control themselves and need to force them into being free.

    It's like dealing with a religious cult. You will work our way. You will be free. We will force you to be free because you will like it. Drink the kool aid.

    Sheesh!

     

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