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    Financial crisis threatening world's free newspapers- experts

    AFP
    01 Ekim 2008 - 15:41Son Güncelleme : 01 Ekim 2008 - 15:41

    The global financial crisis poses a major threat to free newspapers worldwide, experts and industry officials said at the first-ever world conference of the industry on Tuesday

    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 University of Amsterdam media expert Piet Bakker.

     

    "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 Netherlands, DAG, closed down after less than a year and a half in operation.

     

    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 Spain’s Salamanca University.

     

    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 Spain’s four free dailies, "20 minutos", which is also the country’s most read newspaper, said revenues at his paper had dropped by less than 20 percent.

     

    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 Europe where they account for 23 percent of the market with 120 titles in 32 countries, said Bakker.

     

    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 South Africa, South America, Asia and Turkey," said Bakker.

     

    "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 Madrid.

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