Free daily newspapers trace their history back to the 1940s when Walnut Creek, California publisher Dean Lesher began what is widely believed to be the first free daily, now known as the Contra Costa Times. In the 1960s, he converted that newspaper and three others in the same county to paid circulation.

In the early 1970s, in Boulder, Colorado, regents at the University of Colorado kicked the student-run Colorado Daily off campus because of editorials against the Vietnam War. Regents hoped the paper would die; instead it began to focus on the community as a free tabloid published five days a week.

In the next couple of decades, a number of free dailies opened in Colorado. Not coincidentally, most were started by University of Colorado graduates. Free dailies opened in Aspen (1979, 1988), Vail (1984), Breckenridge (1990), Glenwood Springs (1990); Grand Junction (1995); Steamboat Springs (1990) and Telluride (1991).

In 1984 the Birmingham Daily News was launched in Birmingham, England. It was distributed free of charge on weekdays to 300,000 households in the West Midlands and was the first such publication in Europe.[1][2] It was profitable until the early 1990s recession, when it was converted into a weekly title by its then owners Reed Elsevier.

In 1995, the founders of free dailies in Aspen and Vail teamed up to start the Palo Alto Daily News in Palo Alto, California, a city about 20 miles south of San Francisco. The Palo Alto paper was profitable within nine months of its launch, and usually carries more than 100 different retail (non classified) ads per day.

The "Palo Alto Daily News Model" has been copied a number of times over the years, including by four San Francisco Bay Area publications -- the San Francisco Examiner, the San Mateo Daily Journal, the Berkeley Daily Planet (which opened in 1999 and folded in 2001 and was reopened as a twice-a-week paper by new owners in 2004) and the Contra Costa Examiner (which opened and closed in 2004).

The publishers of the Palo Alto Daily News (Aspen Times Daily founding editor Dave Price, and Vail Daily founder Jim Pavelich) have since launched successful free dailies in San Mateo, California (2000), Redwood City, California (2000), Burlingame, California (2000), Los Gatos, California (2002), Denver, Colorado (2002), and Berkeley, California (2006). Each goes by the "Daily News" name with the city's name in front, such as Denver Daily News.

Under the Palo Alto Daily News Model, papers are delivered to public places such as coffee shops, restaurants, stores, gyms, schools, corporate campuses and news racks. Price and Pavelich have avoided putting the content of their newspapers online because that would reduce readership of their printed newspapers, and therefore reduce the effectiveness of their print advertising. While ads can be placed on Web pages, they are not as effective for clients as print advertising. They have said that if they ever find an example of a newspaper that is making a profit on its Web site, they would copy that approach.

In 1995, the same year the Palo Alto Daily News began Metro, started what may be the first free daily newspaper distributed through public transport in Stockholm, Sweden. Later, Metro launched free papers in the Czech Republic (1996); Hungary (1998); the Netherlands and Finland (1999); Chile, USA, Italy, Canada, Poland, Greece, Argentina, Switzerland and the UK (2000); Spain and Denmark (2001); France, Hong Kong and Korea (2002); and Portugal (2004).

According to the Metro web site (see external links), 42 daily Metro editions are published in 63 major cities in 17 countries in 16 languages. However, not every Metro launch was a success, operations in Switzerland, Argentina and the UK were ended after some time while an afternoon free paper in Stockholm was closed within a few months. Metro International is now based in Luxemburg while the company's headquarters are in London. All Metro editions can be downloaded (in PDF format) from their local website or from a special Metro download page (see external links).

Free dailies today[]

In less than 10 years these papers have been introduced in almost every European country and in several markets in the United States, Canada, South America, Australia and Asia. There are, as of 2005, free newspapers in 36 countries — in two countries (Germany and Japan) free daily newspapers have ceased to exist. Market leader Metro distributes seven million copies daily, while other companies publish 14 million copies. These 22 million copies are read by at least 45 million people daily.


Since 2000, many free dailies have been introduced including three in Hong Kong and three in Vancouver, B.C. Besides Metro, another successful publisher is Norwegian's Schibsted. In Switzerland, Spain and France it publishes 20 minutes, the name indicating the amount of time people need to read it. Schibsted also had some disappointments. A German version had to be taken from the market after a bitter newspaper war with local publishers in Cologne, while an Italian edition never saw the streets because of legal matters (non-EU companies could not control Italian media firms, this did not prevent the Italian market to become flooded with free newspapers). The Schibsted-editions have a total circulation of 1.7 million.

In March of 2006 former Palo Alto Daily News managing editor Jeramy Gordon launched the Santa Barbara Daily Sound in Santa Barbara, California. Less than two months later, Dave Price (journalist) and Jim Pavelich launched the San Francisco Daily.

Legal battles[]

In almost every European market where free newspapers were introduced there have been lawsuits on every possible ground, from unfair competition to littering, from the right on the name Metro to quarrels over the right to be distributed through public transport. This kind of distribution is by no means the only way free papers are distributed, racks in busy places like shopping centers, universities, restaurants (McDonald's), and hospitals, and delivery by hand on the street, outside railway stations or door-to-door, are also used.

In the United States, the owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and The New York Times sued the Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority over an exclusive deal it made with Metro to distribute its papers on the agency's commuter trains. Metro won the suit but is losing the newspaper war; the free daily has struggled to win advertisers. Of Metro's five North American papers (Philadelphia, New York, Toronto, Vancouver, and Boston), only its Boston edition is said to be making money. It appears that Metro has stopped expanding in North America.

Newspaper wars[]

The Cologne newspaper war and legal battles were not the only problems free papers encountered. In Paris, hawkers who distributed free papers were attacked, and papers were destroyed and burned. The most common newspaper war however is the clash between publishers, or to be more precise: between local publishers and entrepreneurs like in Cologne. In many cities publishers turned the market that has been quiet for decades into a battlefield. Local publishers are now responsible for almost half of the total circulation of free daily newspapers. They have a monopoly in Belgium, the UK, Singapore, Melbourne, Austria, Argentina and Iceland. However, also in other markets (France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Korea, Denmark, Finland, Italy, USA) local publishers have a substantial market share. In some French and Italian markets three titles are competing, in Seoul (Korea) there were six titles in October 2004.

Internet strategy[]

Price and Pavelich have an entirely different view of the Internet than other free daily publishers. While most free daily publishers post their stories and/or PDF pages online, the creators of the Palo Alto Daily News model have refused to put their content online. They argue that posting their stories online will reduce demand for their printed newspapers, which will also reduce the effectiveness of their print ads. They note that readers have dropped their subscriptions to paid newspapers because they can get the same stories online, yet those newspapers make far less money on their Web sites than they do on their print editions. Posting stories online is dooming their print editions.


While the traditional newspaper has problems to attract the younger audience, free daily newspapers usually have a readership that is much younger than that of the traditional newspaper. Metro International claims that 70% of the Metro-readers are under 45. Knight Ridder, which acquired the Palo Alto Daily News in 2005, found in a 2004 survey that 57% of the paper's readers are under 45.

Content and format[]

Most free newspapers are published as tabloids, is some countries however they are even smaller, for instance in Argentina and Austria. 20 Minutes is published in a magazine format. Although 24 pages seems to be the average for Metro, some papers are thinner (12 to 16 pages) while others have up to 64 pages (the Metro UK Friday edition). The Palo Alto Daily News, however, ranges from 56 to 120 pages per day.

Content reflects the audience: a clear focus on quick news (local, national and international), life style, technology, media, celebrities, movies and information (weather, comics, horoscopes, TV guides, movie and theatre listings, crosswords, etc.).


Free newspapers may hurt the sales of traditional newspapers. This could have harmful societal effects because of the important role newspapers play in a democracy. Figures indicate that many readers of free newspapers are indeed "new" readers or read both paid and free papers. Research by Belgian, UK and US free dailies indicate that half of their readers only read free dailies. There seems to be a negative effect on single copy sales, but the overall effect does not indicate a great deal of cannibalism. Indeed, several publishers of paid dailies (notably the Tribune Company in New York and Chicago, the Washington Post Company in Washington, D.C., and News Corporation in London) have launched free newspapers in their markets -- despite the obvious risk of cannibalization -- in an attempt to reach new readers.


The success of the new free daily newspaper has no doubt inspired other publishers into me-to products. These products are not always free daily newspapers. In some countries free weeklies or semiweeklies have been launched (Norway, France, Russia, Portugal, Poland). In Moscow the semiweekly (in October 2004 expanded to three times a week) is also called Metro. In the Netherlands there is a local free weekly published four times a week. Also it is very likely that the rapid tabloidization in Europe (UK, Ireland, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands) has something to do with the success of the free tabloids. In Germany there are now four so-called compact cheap newspapers.


  • 1947: Dean Lesher launches free daily in Walnut Creek, California, which would become known as the Contra Costa Times
  • 1971: Colorado Daily in Boulder, Colorado is kicked off campus and becomes a free daily newspaper serving the community around the university.
  • 1979-present: A number of free dailies open in Colorado.
  • 1984-1991: The Birmingham Daily News is published in Birmingham, England.
  • 1995: Palo Alto Daily News starts -- a free tabloid publishing then six days a week. Within nine months, the paper was making a profit.
  • 1995: Metro begins publishing in Stockholm, Sweden.
  • 1997: Metro launches second edition in Prague, Czech Republic.
  • 1999: A free daily starts in Berkeley, California known as the Berkeley Daily Planet on April 7. It folds on November 22, 2002. The name is sold to a local politician who revives the paper in 2004 as a twice-a-week publication.
  • 2000: Palo Alto Daily News launches sister papers in San Mateo, Burlingame and Redwood City, California on August 9.
  • 2000: 'San Mateo Daily Journal starts publishing on August 18, providing real local news for the local area.
  • 2000: In order to win Justice Department approval of its purchase of the San Francisco Chronicle, Hearst Corporation is forced to sell its San Francisco Examiner to the Florence Fang family. Hearst is also ordered to pay the Fangs $66 million in order to operate the paper for three years.
  • 2000: The City Paper, a free daily in Nashville, Tennessee, launches on November 1.
  • 2002: Los Gatos Daily News launched by Palo Alto Daily News on May 15.
  • 2002: Denver Daily News publishes first issue on May 10.
  • 2003: The Fangs convert the broadsheet, paid-circulation San Francisco Examiner into a free circulation tabloid, modelled after the Palo Alto Daily News on February 24.
  • 2003: AM New York launches on October 10.
  • 2003: Quick, a free daily newspaper serving the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, is launched on November 1 by The Dallas Morning News and published by Belo Corp. The paper is in response to plans by American Consolidated Media to launch a free daily newspaper, A.M. Journal Express.
  • 2003: A.M. Journal Express is launched on November 12 by American Consolidated Media. The paper closed April 30, 2004 after losing under $5 million, according to chairman Jeremy Halbreich.
  • 2004: Conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz buys the free circulation tabloid San Francisco Examiner from the Fangs for a reported $20 million on February 19.
  • 2005: Palo Alto Daily News sold to Knight Ridder on February 15. Later in the year, on May 20, Palo Alto Daily News spawns another free daily in Berkeley, called the East Bay Daily News.
  • 2005: In April, Morris Communications starts Bluffton Today[1], an experimental free daily tabloid with a significant online community journalism element, in Bluffton, South Carolina.
  • 2006: Santa Barbara Daily Sound starts on March 23 in Santa Barbara, California. Founded by Jeramy Gordon.
  • 2006: San Francisco Daily starts on May 3. Founded by Dave Price, Jim Pavelich and Amando Mendoza.
  • 2006: Manchester Daily Express starts on May 22 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Founded by Jody Reese.
  • 2006: London Lite and thelondonpaper fight for media supremacy in Central London.


External links[]

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  1. History of British Newspapers The Newspaper Society
  2. [ Birmingham reunion planned] Holdthefrontpage