Free dailies have negligible (and wrong) impact

Scarborough has done a study of free dailies in Dallas, NY, Chicago and Boston.

The high points:

  • "[W]hile they are attracting some hard-to-reach
    readers, including younger and minority, these are small gains that
    have had more to do with distribution strategies–such as giving papers
    away free in mass transit areas–than with the availability of
    alternative, free papers. The main effect has been that heavy newspaper
    readers simply read more
    , picking up the freebies in addition to their
    regular paid dailies."
  • Free dailies are simply a way to have more
    "touch points with existing readers and to increase brand mind share
    and loyalty among the existing base."
  • The minority readership impact was less pronounced in Dallas, where there is a less-developed mass transit system.
  • The overall impact of free dailies,
    meanwhile, remains relatively insignificant, with a total circulation
    of about 2 million; and with much of that readership coming from
    existing newspaper readers, the paper raises the question of whether
    the freebies have been worth the investment by their publishers, a
    combination of independents and existing major newspaper publishers in
    their metros.
  • In a final point, the paper raises the
    question of whether freebies can "directly monetize" their free daily
    audience from advertisers. "Existing advertisers might resist
    incremental pricing to reach mostly the same readers in markets like
    New York, Chicago, or Dallas. For some papers, this argument may be a
    barrier for some advertisers. In non-competitive markets, such as
    Dallas, the free dailies offer message frequency for advertisers for
    which this is attractive."

Mike Orren is the Chief Product Officer of The Dallas Morning News; President of Belo Business Intelligence; husband to Crystal Orren; and a Mungarian at Munger Place Church in Dallas, TX. All opinions herein are mine alone.