Free news

Richard Addis, a former newspaper editor, argues in the Guardian that it makes sense to take quality newspapers and give them away. He makes some very rough back-of-the-envelope calculations to say that it can make economic sense to give away not just the lite papers we’re seeing today but quality papers because though paper costs would increase and circ revenue would go away, marketing costs would decrease and web revenue would increase:

Now consider the website effect. One of the best consequences of going free is that there would no longer be any restraint on the desirability of sending print readers to your website. Any newspaper with a cover price has to retain just a trace of ambivalence about driving readers away from print to a cheap digital source. The financial dangers are so acute that the FT, New York Times and Wall Street Journal charge in various ways for their web content.

With a business model that does not require cover price revenue all restraint can be abandoned. Indeed the long-term mission of any free newspaper business should be to drive readers so successfully in the direction of the internet that print runs can be eventually cut back drastically, if not cancelled entirely.

The real mission is to get over Rusbridger’s green blob and take journalism into the future, unrestrained by media.

: Here’s an Independent roundup of free papers around the world.

Can a free New York Times be far behind? Yes, probably very far.

But if I were, say, McClatchy, I’d take one paper in one market and rework it — getting rid of the things you keep only to try to keep paid circulation (stock tables, TV listings, and so on) and investing in killer local reporting. And then I’d get the web site ready for prime time, making it even better than the paper. And then I’d give away the paper and test Addis’ thesis. With enough balls and smarts, I think it might work.