Research Project: Free Newspapers in Europe

16. September 2014


The threat:

With the exception of Germany, we have been seeing an increase in competition for readers and advertisers between paid (subscriptions or newsstand) and free newspapers in practically all metropolitan areas of Europe. In several regions of Europe – first and foremost in France – this competition has become a struggle for survival among quality newspapers.

The scenario:

In 1995 Metro International in Stockholm brought the business concept of the so-called “commuter newspaper” to the market. The attention of professionals, so necessary for advertising sales, could best be achieved during moments of inactivity or boredom: during their commute to work. The distribution of the newspaper on public transportation or public spaces also seemed relatively inexpensive – and a highly efficient means by which to generate user contacts. Metro International was not the only newspaper to go after the established media by using this concept.

Significant findings:

  1. Commuter newspapers have grown by nearly one-third among the adult population of those countries that have been studied, and they are also responsible for the loss of one-third of readers of paid newspapers. There are also differences in the degree of independence of the media infrastructure and its manner of journalism.
  2. Cheaply produced free newspapers serve to confirm among young people their prejudices against the entire genre of newspapers: they find them unnecessary. On the other hand, an attractive and legitimately informative free newspaper can lead to increased revenues and lure non-readers.
  3. The media behaviour of the free newspapers’ young target group is quickly trending digital/online. In a few years mobile end devices with their audiovisual capabilities and their inexpensive and easy access to the Internet will fulfil the infotainment demands much more effectively than the free newspapers today. Free newspapers will thus shrink to become an information vehicle for older people who are not attractive to advertisers.
  4. These findings lead to targeted strategies for newspaper companies:
  • Develop an Internet presence as a comprehensive general interest medium with high local expertise;
  • expand the free newspaper more effectively as a community and crossover medium;
  • transform the traditional paid newspaper to a high-quality premium product, for which a minority of adults would be willing to pay double the price;
  • Differentiate the distribution of paid newspapers and use various distribution methods – for example, provide online access to subscribers at home.



The free newspaper is a transitional medium, given that advertising and the target readership are going online. This type of newspaper will disappear in no more than ten years because it is not attractive enough – and will be without sufficient financing, given the disappearance of advertising revenue. Since the process will be protracted, many quality newspapers will also disappear.

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