Consumer Newspaper Choice in Markets with Free Print Options: Are Free Daily Newspapers Competition or Opportunity for Traditional Paid Products?

The consumption of paid newspapers in the United States and most other mature print news markets has been in slow but general decline throughout the last four decades. Much of this decline has been precipitated by a variety of (usually) free electronic news and information sources – most notably radio, television and now the internet. A recent addition to these sources is free newspapers, some introduced as competitors to paid newspapers, others designed to encourage newspaper reading among current non-readers. The impact of free newspapers on the market for paid print dailies in four major United States markets is analyzed in terms of whether these two sorts of products are competitors or complements. In general we find that at this point in time and in the sorts of U.S. markets wherein free dailies have been introduced that these two product types are not genuine competitors for audience. However, given 1) the modest penetration levels of free newspapers, and 2) the high levels of duplication between paid and free readership it is unlikely that reading of free newspapers will appreciably bolster reading of paid ones.

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