Good news for free newspaper

Significant increases in readership for free newspaper Nyhedsavisen have many experts now predicting the upstart publication can become a fourth member of the nation's 'big three' dailies

Six months after hitting the streets, free newspaper Nyhedsavisen is catching up to its established competitors and converting its critics. Though the concept of delivering a free daily to people's homes was met with stiff resistance when its Icelandic owners unveiled the plan last winter, a 30 percent jump in readership from January to February could mean the paper is coming into its own, reported Berlingske Tidende newspaper Tuesday.

As Nyhedsavisen has gained readers, other dailies - both paid and free - have lost readers. 'If that trend continues Nyhedsavisen could become a significant player by this summer,' said Thorsten Lehrmann, media director for advertising firm Kunde & Co, who predicted the paper could become of the country's four largest newspapers.

During the same period Berlingkse Tidende was the only one of Denmark's 'big three' national dailies to post a gain. Other freesheets, including those launched by major publishers last summer to head off Nyhedsavisen, posted either marginal gains or lost readers.

Nyhedsavisen, which began publishing in October, had a number of start-up problems that forced it to scale back its ambitions, such as plans to create its own news bureau. And, faced with distribution problems early, it has come to rely as much on street-level distribution as home delivery, though it has continued to increase the number of neighbourhoods in which it delivers.

Gunnár Smár Egilsson, head of Nyhedsavisen's owner company, Dagsbrun, predicted that growth rates would continue but warned that the newspaper was still not expected to show a profit until 2010.

'We expect to be able to turn Nyhedsavisen into a profitable business in three or four years. But it is still too early to say when we will hit the break-even point.'

Estimates by the Danish Union of Journalists predict that Nyhedsavisen will burn through its DKK 406 million starting capital by July, but Egilsson disagreed with the figures.

'Of course we've used up some of the DKK 400 million we've set aside, but the amount of funds coming in is close to our business model.'

Though Nyhedsavisen executives took the positive numbers a sign that their paper had a future in the leading constellation of dailies, Lehrmann cautioned against drawing too close a connection between financial stability and editorial content.

'It's a matter of societal trends. Our need for news has changed and we get our news from different sources. That's helped Nyhedsavisen get a good hold of the market.'

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