Growth of Free Dailies Spike Since 2000

By: Jennifer Saba

The number of free dailies tripled since 2000 and the growth is not necessarily in cities with a mass transit system, according to a new study from the North American Free Daily Newspaper Association.

There are 60 free dailies in North America, said the organization, including the launch of two new publications this summer in North Carolina, SmartNews in Fayetteville and the Messenger in Mt. Airy.

“Launches of free dailies in mass-transit cities such as New York, Boston, Washington, and Chicago have gotten the most attention from reporters who cover the media,” Henry E. Scott, interim director of the Free Daily Newspaper Association and former group publisher of Metro International, said in a statement. “But our study shows that nearly a quarter of North America’s free dailies are published in small towns and have circulations of 10,000 or less.”

The study found that 16 free dailies have a distribution of 100,001 or more copies; 11 have circulations ranging from 50,001 to 100,000; 19 have circulations ranging from 10,001 to 50,000; and 14 have circulations of up to 10,000.

The organization sent out the survey to 60 free dailies and received 19 responses. While not comprehensive, it gives a small snapshot of the landscape.

The survey found that nearly one-third of free dailies are aimed at 18- to- 34-year old adults. The average free daily employs 29 people and 61% of most free dailies distribute about 95% of its copies.

Sixty-one percent of respondents reported returns of less than 5%. More free dailies handle their own delivery — 61% — the survey revealed. About 40% contract with an outside service.

More than 50% of respondents said they owned their own presses.

A high majority of respondents — 61% — said that local ordinances govern rack placement.

National advertising accounts for 13% of advertising revenue, according to the study. The Newspaper National Network represents about 11% while roughly 5% of respondents said they are represented by the Alternative Weekly Network (AWN) and Newspapers First, respectively.

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