UPDATE: Belo’s ‘Al D?a’ in Dallas Embraces Free Distribution

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Al D?a, the Monday-through-Saturday paper published by The Dallas Morning News, will convert to free distribution with its Jan. 23 edition, the paper said.

Much of Al D?a’s 36,500 net circulation has been free since the paper was launched in September 2003.

Al D?a Editor and Publisher Gilbert Bailon said the paper began seriously thinking about moving single copy to free when an independent distributor had success sampling in restaurants and other locations where newspapers are not normally sold.

“We found there was a great deal of pick-up,” Bailon said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. At the same time, he said, single-copy sales had essentially plateaued. “We sell a consistent amount, but it wasn’t growing … and we don’t have the marketing resources or the circulation-acquisition resources to [convert] to paid,” he added.

“Our belief, and I think it is the view of other Spanish-language papers, is that readership is more important than paid circulation,” Bailon said.

Hoy, the national Spanish-language daily published by Tribune Co., recently converted its New York edition to free-distribution. Its editions in Chicago and Los Angeles have been free for more than a year.

In addition, Al D?a competes in many parts of the five-county Dallas/Fort Worth market with Diario La Estrella, a Tuesday-through-Saturday paper published by Knight Ridder’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram. That paper, which re-launched with its new name at the same time that Al D?a launched, has been free since its creation.

“That wasn’t the main driver,” Bailon said, “but we look at their pick-up rate and ours, and concluded it would be more likely that more papers would be picked up if it were free.”

Store sales of the paper have not been an important part of single-copy, most of which is sold from racks, Bailon said, so he doesn’t anticipate that being bounced from convenience stores will hurt it. “Actually, we can put a rack out and move more papers,” he said.

At the same time, the paper will continue paid home delivery to reach Hispanics, often in wealthier households, who live outside the heavily Hispanic neighborhoods where Al D?a is distributed for free.

“Home delivery has been growing,” Bailon said.

Al D?a will continue to be audited by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, he said.

As part of the conversion to free distribution, Al D?a will undergo some subtle design changes, adding even more color to its front page, and expanding the size of skyboxes.

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