Free Dailies Ready For Their Own Association?

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

With the number of free dailies in North American now past the half-century mark and counting, it may be time for them to organize their own association, some publishers think.

Free daily executives will be testing the waters for an association at a seminar hosted by the St. Petersburg Times, publisher of tbt*/Tampa Bay Times. Organizers are billing the seminar, set for June 18 and 19, as the first ever dedicated to free dailies in the U.S. or Canada.

“As you probably know better than anyone, the newspaper industry has more associations than any industry I’ve ever run across, so we’re a little hesitant to create another,” Henry Scott said in an interview. “But on the other hand there are issues that are unique to free dailies.”

Scott is a managing director of Gansevoort Media, the New York City-based newspaper product development company, who was the launch publisher of Metro New York.

Scott isn’t saying an association is a sure thing. But it already has a name — the Association of Free Daily Newspapers — and the seminar is offering attendees a 10% discount on membership.

Free daily publishers, and mainstream papers looking to get into free publications, have a lot in common, Scott argues.

For one thing, their distribution methods of unsolicited door-to-door delivery and street hawking don’t always sit well with municipalities. “In a number of cities, there are a lot of regulations that make that difficult,” he said. “San Francisco, for instance, is very difficult. So is New York.”

Free dailies have a bigger job of selling advertisers on their reach since the Audit Bureau of Circulations won’t audit a free daily unless it’s published by a paid daily.

Free dailies are also beginning to take on bigger markets. As Scott points out, free dailies in the U.S. have grown differently than Europe or Asia, where Metro International began creating or franchising commuter dailies in densely populated big cities. Here, the first dailies began in smaller cities such as Vail, Colo., Palo Alto, Calif., or Conway, N.H.

Now that free dailies are taking hold in cities such as New York and Chicago, Scott said it’s likely that U.S. publishers will adopt another trend from Europe and Asia — the single-theme daily. London, for instance, has a free business daily, City AM, and business dailies have also sprouted in Portugal and Germany.

Several European cities have free sports dailies, and at least one U.S. group is seriously considering launching a sports daily here, Scott said.

Information about the free daily seminar is available by calling 646.823.2750.

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