The Danish freesheet war: who'll be next to throw in the towel?
Does Dato's demise prove the market for door-to-door freesheet distribution is non-existent?

Next victim in the Danish freesheet war: 24timer?

Mecom-owned Dato was bound to fail because it was a defensive move, and a very rushed one at that. This, in essence, is also why I think 24timer will be the next Danish freesheet to call it quits.

After Dato merged with Urban this week, Lasse Bolander, Berlingske Officin's managing director admitted to Berlingske that a key reason for launching Dato last August was indeed, as widely assumed, the announced arrival of Icelandic-owned Nyhedsavisen, which they saw as a threat to the market for [paid-for] morning newspapers, including Berlingske Tidende. In this situation they felt attack would be the best defence.

They say great minds think alike. Now I don't know Bolander or Lars Henrik Munch, JP/Politiken's CEO, well enough to pronounce any verdict on their minds, but it would surprise me if the reasoning at JP/Politiken wasn't much the same (its new freebie, 24timer, hit the streets a mere two days after Dato was announced). In other words: bleed'em dry.

Except, of course, that didn't happen, or has yet to happen, mainly due to the deep pockets of Icelandic Baugur, the biggest shareholder in Dagsbrun (who owns 365 Media, who owns 365 Media Scandinavia, who owns... well, you get my drift). More importantly, Nyhedsavisen's explicit ambition is to be a quality freesheet that competes with the paid-for morning papers, rather than other freesheets, whereas Dato and 24timer were classic freesheets that ended up eating into the readership and advertisement revenues of their owners paid-for titles.

Some Danes, like Mads Øvslien (writing in Berlingske) even complained that a strange side effect of the freesheet war was how the freesheets were delivered bright and early in the morning, but subscribers were left waiting for the paid-for titles from those very same media companies. He concluded: "I don't know many businesses that survive by focusing on their peripheral products at the expense of their core products."

Now that Dato is no more, JP/Politiken will also have to pay more for distributing 24timer, which previously was delivered to Danish households together with Dato. Still, according the latest readership figures I've seen, 24timer is Denmark's most read door-to-door distributed freesheet. If we include the traffic-distributed ones, it's the third most read free paper, after MetroXpressen and Urban – and, now that Dato is gone, Nyhedsavisen is the least read.

How come I still think 24timer will be the next victim in the freesheet war? Because while both 24timer and Nyhedsavisen are steadily growing their respective readerships, it's the paid-for titles that's paying the price – and burning off a fortune to subsidise a freesheet that steals readers from your paid-for titles, as is the case with JP/Politiken, who owns top paid-for titles such as Politiken and Jyllandsposten, doesn't make much sense.

Unless, of course the bosses at JP/Politiken still believe they can exhaust Nyhedsavisen's finances by doing so, or that Nyhedsavisen is too dangerous left unencumbered by competition in the free door-to-door segment.


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