Free Globe

Working near the heart of the financial district in Boston, I’ve noticed what I believe is a new phenomenon. Just about every day, I can get either the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, or the New York Times for free. The Globe usually has a cover page reflecting a sponsor of the free newspaper (most often my recent alma mater), but the Herald and Times are just plain free, the same version you can buy for $0.25 to $1.00 at the vending machine on the corner.

One theory is that they are trying to put Metro out of business, and then they’ll stop their freebies (potentially an antitrust “dumping” violation if this is really the plan). Metro is a short, free newspaper that has been popping up in cities all over the world (they apparently only provide PDF versions of their paper on their website). The quality of the writing is terrible, but it’s short, and, well, free. For many commuters, it’s all they have time to read on the train anyway. It’s interesting how often people (myself included) will chose something much worse because it’s free, rather than pay $0.25 for a real paper, which in this day and age is also basically “free” if you earn a reasonable salary. This is perhaps also the appeal of the shoddy camcorder versions of current-run movies that circulate on peer-to-peer file sharing networks.

Another theory is that the papers make so little money from vendor sales (versus advertising) that the increased circulation from free giveaways actually increases advertising revenue more than the lost sales. Most cultural weeklies have gone this way—I remember when I first moved to Boston I accidentally stole the Boston Phoenix a couple of times before I realized that it actually cost money. Shortly thereafter they made it free and my guilt was assuaged.

There’s been a lot of talk about near-zero-cost publishing on the web and the impact on copyright, creativity, and the dissemination of information. But could it be that “real” publishing is also becoming so cheap that the same issues arise there? People are rarely willing to pay for standard news content online, perhaps the same is becoming true offline.


  1. Mick Jan 28

    NY Times free? Where have they been giving those out? All I’ve seen is the Globe & the Hearld, it’d be nice to get a real newspaper for free! :)

  2. Adam Rosi-Kessel Jan 28

    I get all my free papers right outside South Station. I’ve only seen the New York Times free two or three times in the past month.

  3. Adam Rosi-Kessel Jan 28

    It’s also worth noting that you can get all of these papers for free, including the Wall Street Journal, every day, in the recycling bin near the train tracks at South Station, if you don’t mind “pre-read” material. It’s certainly clean and orderly, often still in its original bag.

  4. Joe Buck Jan 28

    No, publishing is not cheap. But the lion’s share of the cost is paid by advertisers. Big city dailies that charge you $0.25 or $0.50 per copy aren’t living off what you pay for it; the money the advertisers give them is far more.

    You’ve got to pay the writers and staff, no getting around that. The marginal cost of producing one more copy isn’t that much, so getting a large circulation by giving the paper away can pay off if you can then charge more for ads.

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