The sector, which is made up of 230 free newspapers in 58 nations with a total daily distribution of 43 million copies, is "extremely vulnerable to a recession", said
"It will be particularly hard for free newspapers with no operations in other sectors, who are not part of companies with other activities. If you only have advertising, you really have a big problem," he said.
The most vulnerable free newspapers are those that publish in the afternoon, those that focus on sports and those which only started printing recently just as the global economy began to sour, said Bakker.
The challenges faced by the sector were underscored earlier this month when one of the four free dailies published in the
The paper was one of 12 free dailies to close down so far this year, after 23 stopped publishing in 2007, said Piet Bakker.
"We are going through a period of crisis and the days to come are black," said Fernando Martinez-Valley, a communications professor at
In July the worlds largest publisher of freesheets, Swedish-owned Metro International, reported a bigger-than-expected 83 percent drop in second-quarter operating profit due to weak advertising sales.
Arsenio Escolar, the director of one of
He said free newspapers must band together and form an international federation that can lobby for favorable conditions.
"Paid newspapers are organized, the free ones must do the same," said Escolar, who is also the head of the Spanish Association of Periodical Publications Editors.
Free newspapers have redrawn the media landscape since they emerged on a large scale in the 1990s, especially in
They seek to attract advertising by reaching large numbers of consumers who normally do not buy newspapers and often target passengers on mass transit with short articles and the generous use of color and photos.
"The new markets are in
"The markets are mature in many countries and that is going to lead us to an evolution," said Escolar.
"The planetary challenge is to capture the attention of the public," said the director of the Spanish branch of Metro, Carlos Sala, adding this could be done by setting up free Internet portals.
Roughly 350 participants from 26 countries, including editors of free newspapers and media experts, are taking part in the three-day gathering in