The Trend of Free Newspapers in London Essay
The Trend of Free Newspapers in London
A drop in the number of sales recorded by newspapers sold to people across the world has introduced different trends and methods of reviving sales within the industry. Some Newspaper Publishing companies have resorted to experimenting with free newspapers, which are commonly produced by smaller teams of journalists and distributed to people at no charge whatsoever.
The decline in the sale of printed newspapers is made worse by the fact that readers and advertisers are now moving their businesses online. The advent of the information age and the accompanying increase in the use of technology like mobile computing, sms notifications and the like, as means of getting information, have continued to pose a serious threat to the Newspaper Industry. This threat may be manifested in the form of reduced sales and a dwindling base of readers. Paid newspapers like the Guardian are also significantly affected by the upsurge in the number of free newspapers made available to people everywhere.
Free newspapers are constantly being handed out to people while they are commuting from home to work or school via public transport. They may also be handed out by hawkers on the street to passers-by. For example, piles of London Metro newspapers are dropped in buses, train stations and newspaper stands. People usually find the size, readability and presentation of such tabloids more convenient to carry around. The fact that they do not have to pay for these papers also makes them appealing. Amidst all the chaos and confusion, it is important to remember what newspapers are, what purposes they are meant to fulfill to the population and how their success and relevance may be measured (Rusbridger, 2005).
What are Newspapers?
Newspapers are publications that may be printed and sold weekly, daily or periodically and contain current information, articles, editorials, advertisements and news items that are of general interest. They are indispensable, effective and conventional means of communication used all over the world to convey information to people. People love to be informed of events and general happenings around them.
Consequently, it no longer matters whether it’s a free newspaper or one that has been paid for. It is important to share information with all categories of people so that they may be adequately empowered to make the right decisions and justify their belief systems. As is commonly said, the pen more powerful than the sword. Newspaper Publishing Companies, Journalists, Editors and their teams are responsible for the information passed on to millions of people will be for many generations to come. It is therefore, imperative, that the quality and relevance of the content in newspapers be sustained.
Even though newspapers are powerful media of communication, the internet has replaced to a large extent, the need to buy printed newspapers. The number of people reading the news from websites and free newspapers has increased over the years, causing a decline in the sales and profits recorded by most Newspaper Publishing Companies, especially in Europe (Rusbridger, 2005).
Benefits of Newspapers
Newspapers have been around for a very long time. Their main objectives are to inform society, act as seekers and distributors of information, create an avenue for Governments and their people to relate, and for citizens to understand their national systems. The level of enlightenment introduced with the advent of newspapers has helped people to understand democracy, politics and other national matters that are important to them. It would be difficult to maintain a democratic society if people are ill-informed or misinformed. Newspapers also help to entertain the citizens, challenge existing powers and make the right people accountable for their actions (Rusbridger, 2005).
The most common service provided by newspapers is advertisement. 75% of the revenue generated by most Newspaper Publishing Companies comes from placing adverts on their pages. There are various types of adverts that Newspapers can provide to individuals, businesses, and Governments. The first is the Display Ads which usually involves the use of large photos and graphics. These Ads cost a lot of money and are usually placed by departmental stores, big businesses, theaters and so on. They generate a lot of revenue for both the Newspaper Publishing Companies that use them and the entities that are advertised.
The second type of adverts that may be placed in newspapers are the Classified Ads which appear in smaller fonts. They are normally placed by individuals trying to buy or sell, businesses notices of vacancy, and people offering different types of services. They are more affordable and effective in reaching a large number of potential customers. The next category of adverts is called the inserts. This type of advert is just as the name implies. They are colorful booklets, handbills, flyers or brochures placed inside newspapers for distribution. Newspaper Publishing Companies charge for placing and distributing these inserts but have no control over the quality of the inserts produced.
Newspapers also provide an effective and sustained mechanism for reaching a lot of people within and outside a particular region. They provide alternative means of increasing awareness during campaigns and guiding the population so that they are continually informed and well-equipped to make decisions with the right information at hand.
An analysis of the London free newspapers, a short analysis of free newspapers internationally seen and a look at leading countries of free newspapers.
Free newspapers in the UK include London Lite, London Paper, The Metro and others. Anyone taking a ride in London Underground or buses will most likely see people reading newspapers. Most of these newspapers are tabloids. Free newspapers have been introduced into almost every country in Europe. Other countries like United States, Asia, Australia, and Canada also have free newspapers distributed to them (Picard, 2001). Records show that there are free newspapers in over 50 countries all over the world.
In European Countries like Denmark, Spain, Portugal and Iceland, more free newspapers are distributed daily than paid papers. In over 12 European Countries, the newspapers that have the highest record of sales are free. Outside Europe, countries like The Dominican Republic, Singapore, Israel, Hong Kong, Chile and Botswana also have a high number of free newspapers (Picard, 2001).
The style of distributing free newspapers via Public Transport Systems was introduced in Sweden in 1995. There had been previous attempts to launch similar schemes in most European Countries. In the US however, free newspapers had been around as early as 1972 and many of them still exist, especially in Colorado. There are also records that an Australian daily has been in existence since 1906 (Picard, 2001). Media recently ranked the Metro as the fourth newspaper with the biggest coverage or circulation in the UK. It has captured the hearts of a wider portion of the market and is usually read by commuters and passers-by on their daily travels.
Free newspapers have a business model that is quite different from the one employed by traditional paid newspapers. They rely on their advertising income and established distribution across metropolitan areas, specifically through Public Transportation Systems (Picard, 2001).
Despite the fact that free newspapers have been in existence for decades, there are still many legal, environmental and moral issues being leveled against them. Issues of people littering the environment with free dailies have been raised. The fact that dust bins are overflowing with piles of free daily newspapers has continued to constitute a menace to the environment. The unfair disadvantage and competition that free Newspaper Publishing Companies are alleged to have created for Paid Newspaper Publishing Companies is also a subject of intense controversy (Picard, 2001).
In some other countries, like Paris, disgruntled parties have gone as far as to unleash their wrath on the hawkers that distribute these free newspapers. Some of these hawkers are attacked and their piles of free newspapers burnt to the ground (Picard, 2001). In some other countries, certain government legislations and private organizations deny free newspapers of numerous benefits, support, and membership opportunities of newspaper publishers associations and newspaper advertising networks (Picard, 2001). In some cases, the staffs of free Newspaper Publishing Companies have been prevented from joining press clubs and obtaining relevant press credentials. They are also constantly threatened by the fact that paid dailies may come up with free papers of their own (Picard, 2001).
Despite the numerous oppositions and controversies, free newspapers are reputed to have the highest number of young readers. This is partly due to their style of writing, which is informal, and the entertaining content. Free newspapers are usually more interesting, easier to read, but have less news than paid papers. It is however, obvious that they are fulfilling a need in the market that is yet to be met by traditional newspapers.
Most free Newspaper Publishing Companies publish from only from Mondays to Fridays and do not have the full weekend versions that paid newspapers do, they are lighter with fewer pages and have lesser staff strength. To gain the interest of their widening customer base, free dailies have had to provide only an overview of key national issues and print the information that people want to read without costing anything but time. Free dailies help to fulfill the needs of advertisers for a large audience at competitive and affordable rates. They focus on occasional readers, some habitual readers and even non-readers (Picard, 2001).
Free newspapers usually contain an overview of major issues, celebrity gossip, life style, sports, movies, TV-guide, technology, weather, horoscope, crosswords and so on (Picard, 2001). Advertisers in Free newspapers are usually clubs, theaters, music stores, video stores and so on. Free newspapers are fully established in major cities of the world like London, Santiago, Montreal, Singapore, Boston and Athens (Picard, 2001). The sale or success of free daily newspapers depends largely on the locality, the number of stops of the public transport system chosen, the average time of commute, and the difference in the ease of distribution across various locations. Their limitations include the little original content they contain and their minimal coverage of local news.
Paid Traditional Newspapers
The Times, the Guardian, the Independent, the Telegraph, the Observer, the Financial Times and the New York Times are all newspapers that readers have to pay for before reading. They are different from free Newspaper Publishing Companies because they are believed to have higher editorial standards; they have more staff consisting of a larger team of journalists, editors, writers and publishers; and they are more established, trusted and reliable sources of information because they spend a lot of money on research, travels and the information they get. The traditional business model relies on circulation sales, revenue obtained from advertisements, and an effective circulation system from homes to newsstands (Picard, 2001).
The main readers of paid newspapers are habitual readers and a few occasional readers. Their strengths lie in their number of habitual readers, their reputation, their distribution strength, and their expert analysis and comments on public events.
The main reasons why they are less appealing to occasional readers or young readers is because they are harder to read, not given out for free, and are much more expensive for placing adverts.
Where does the Future Trend go?
The Current Situation
After the successful introduction of the Metro in Stockholm in 1995, many free newspapers followed suit. This has brought new and unexpected competition to existing traditional dailies. Free dailies enjoy cost reductions because they have less complex distribution systems in place. Publishers of paid circulation dailies fear that the free newspapers may reduce and subsequently erode their advertising base and revenue.
Bankruptcy, buyouts, layoffs are currently affecting the newspaper industry. Journalists, editors and all the people within the media industry are under pressure and trying to cope with the rapid changes in the workings of the media environment. Even though most paid newspaper companies have created websites to maintain and possibly increase their number of readers, a lot of work still has to be done because the competition in the media market is fierce. Facts have shown that newspapers that are paid for are not necessarily the most popular amongst people. For example, the most serious and trusted newspaper in Britain – the Financial Times sells very few copies. Even though there are reputable and prestigious newspapers in the UK that are paid for, their circulation is currently experiencing a sharp decline.
In order to maintain or improve national circulations, most paid newspaper publishers, are being forced to spend more money on bulk sales (copies found in trains, planes and hotels); foreign sales, the distribution of newspapers to foreign countries; Subscriptions, introduced to encourage the constant purchase of newspapers at discounted rates; and promotions that involve the distribution of CDs, free tickets to major events, dream cottages, and DVDs. These schemes and free gifts are being handed out in order to invite more people to purchase printed newspapers. Out of the five basic broadsheet newspaper groups, only one of them, The Telegraph Titles was able to declare some profit last year but later announced that they were about to embark on a major restructuring to cut costs.
Financial Times however, recorded losses of almost £55 million in two years, the last loss being £9m. The Times and Sunday Times both declared a total loss of £26 million. The Guardian and Observer recorded losses of £6.2m; and the Independent titles an approximate amount of £15m (Rusbridger, 2005). Most of these titles are about to spend significant amounts of money on getting new presses and equipment, and perhaps change their printing requirements and marketing strategies. With this current trend, lots of millions is anticipated to be spent in the years to come. Profit might still take a long time in coming for some of these companies (Rusbridger, 2005).
Consequences of the Crisis
Most newspapers get over 75% of their revenue from advertisements. With the increasing internet wave, people no longer see the need to pay for information or entertainment when they can get it for free. The trend that is most likely to follow is that free newspaper operators will try to lure people away from paying for newspapers to getting them for free (Addis, 2006). Established paid newspaper companies may then be forced to start giving out their papers at no cost. One can only hope that the quality that newspapers are meant to have will be sustained.
If major Newspaper Publishing Companies do decide to give out their papers for free, there will be grave financial consequences. Cover price revenue will no longer be obtainable, more copies would have to be provided in order to reach a higher number of people, and the cost of printing and paper will definitely increase (Addis, 2006). It is however, not all bad news for paid Newspaper Publishing Companies. A comprehensive and strategic website strategy, if successful, would help to cut down print costs and inadvertently increase the revenue generated by the website traffic. This could however, lead to huge staff cuts.
Free newspapers have an adverse effect on the sales recorded by paid traditional dailies. This could in turn, have a negative effect on the core role of newspapers in bringing the right information to people. Statistics however, show that the people that read free newspapers the most are young readers, new readers or habitual readers who also read paid newspapers alongside the free ones. This shows that free newspapers cannot completely eliminate paid dailies from the hearts of people. The overall negative effects of paid dailies are not enough to reduce the number of people interested in reading the paid dailies (Picard, 2001).
Due to the fact that free newspapers have to be printed in large quantities to reach their target audience, there are many environmental effects to be considered. Trees are the basic raw materials used for producing papers for printing. This could lead to massive deforestation that would affect the ecological balance of the affected areas in the years to come. The level of disorderliness caused by litter is another major source of consideration. In major cities like London, free newspapers are dumped in huge quantities by the dustbins causing an unclean mess and giving the environmentalists a lot of concern.
Journalists may be the key to solving some of these problems. Communities are presently being formed online to allow journalists to write stories, conduct research on key subjects and be paid to print these stories. Alternatively, newspapers may be established as Community Centers. National newspapers may not be able to achieve this, but local and regional newspapers can use the media as an avenue to generate ad revenue online. After all, everyone needs to be connected both physically and online. Readers may sign up for news, and during the registration process, are allowed to identify their areas of interest and other key demographic information that is relevant to compiling subjects of interest to the public. The result of this can then be used to produce printed versions of newspapers (Rusbridger, 2005).
Ad campaigns may also be used to target and acquire different categories of readers based on their interests. For example, a group of people that travel a lot would expect to see travel-related advertising and any other relevant information related to travelling. Newspapers can be used as social news sources, by allowing users or readers to contribute via feeding the news source with important information that will be managed by moderators.
For example, a reporter or photographer can take pictures from major events and share them with the online community. Each community would be divided into different groups each with separate areas of interest (Rusbridger, 2005). This will help to increase the content of the website and build a large community of readers online. It doesn’t eliminate the printed newspapers but can help to strengthen it by tracking the content that gets clicked or read the most. Most websites have tracking facilities that can decipher the portion of the website that attracts the highest number of visitors. The print version of the newspaper can then be written or developed to reflect the articles of interest based on what is reflected from the website.
There are numerous ways in which Newspaper publishing companies can survive in these changing times. They would have to change customary methods previously adopted and introduce radical, but positive change to the entire industry (Rusbridger, 2005).
The people should be aware of the pros and cons of both paid and free newspapers. It’s a free world and everyone should have the freedom to express themselves. It is time for daily paid newspapers to see free newspapers as competitors in their own rights, and employ strategic plans and methods to tackle the competition.
Free and paid dailies have completely different audiences and advertising markets even though their interests tend to overlap. The losses recorded by paid daily newspapers indicate that there’s a gap that is yet to be filled. The competition may be intense on week days but on weekends, daily paid newspapers are the only available papers. This should be seen as an advantage that may tend to drive more readers of free newspapers to paid newspapers during the day (Picard, 2001).
It is time for paid newspapers to conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis to develop their strong points, service offerings and product differentiation methods. The obstructionist strategy of attacking and suing free papers may not produce the required results and has cost implications. This may end up not eliminating the competition.
Paid daily newspapers must continually aim to improve their strengths in content, news and expert analysis. This is the key and major attraction for most people. It is what makes them indispensable to people with deep interest in social, economic and political issues. There is no need to eliminate competition. There are numerous benefits to be derived from participating in all segments of the media market because opportunities are boundless.
Addis, R. (2006, September 11). Newspaper free-for-all. Retrieved September 27, 2008, from The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2006/sep/11/mondaymediasection.pressandpublishing
Picard, R. G. (2001). Strategic Responses to Free Distribution Daily Newspapers. JMM -The International Journal on Media Management , 167-172.
Rusbridger, A. (2005, March 9). Hugo Young Lecture: What are newspapers for? Retrieved September 26, 2008, from The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2005/mar/14/pressandpublishing
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 20 March 2017
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