Red Dailies To End Sampling

After nearly three months after launching competing tabloids targeting Gen Y readers, the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times have begun the process to transitioning the flashy dailies from free samples to paid circulation. The process could take months, and it will be the first real test of whether their efforts to attract younger readers are working.

In late October, the Tribune launched a 40-page morning tabloid called Red Eye, targeting readers 18-34, while the rival Sun-Times debuted a strikingly similar product called Red Streak weeks later. Ever since, Chicago has been littered with hawkers and free newspapers as the two handed out roughly 100,000 copies each day hoping to give their paper a jump on the other.

“We did some aggressively sampling across the city and have recently been pulling back on the number of sample copies,” explains Tribune spokeswoman Patty Wetli. “We’ve been decreasing the number of trial copies in the marketplace and replacing our samplers with either a paid hawker or a Red Eye vending box. We’re doing it in very targeted areas and we’re rolling this out gradually.” Tribune is not saying how many papers are being sold, but says that timed with its conversion to paid circulation, it has increased the number of retail outlets where Red Eye is sold to 1,300 across the city and nearby suburbs.



The Sun-Times has also begun to charge a quarter for its Red Streak, distributed at hundreds of spots around Chicago each afternoon. The Sun-Times did not return calls seeking comment.

For the time being no on is sure just who is reading all these free newspapers. Wetli says they won’t have readership data back from Gallup for several months to determine if the paper is being read by its targeted 18-34 year olds, or by existing newspaper readers. For more immediate feedback, Red Eye has started a reader panel, which sends surveys to some of the 900 participants quizzing them about the previous day’s edition.

“I see them read a lot on the bus,” says Aimee Keefer, a Chicago commuter and print supervisor for Zenith Media. “We did get some free advertising at the beginning, but we’re still waiting to see some of the figures before we make any buys. The jury is still out on whether they’re going to make it.”

The industry is watching closely as well, as it hopes to stem the tide of declining readership among the young. According to Northwestern University’s Media Management Center, the number of daily newspaper readers between 21 to 25 year olds is half of what it was in the early 1970’s. Today just one-in-five reads a newspaper everyday. Other newspaper groups are looking at launching similar projects. Arlington, VA-based Gannett is test-marketing two separate Gen Y offerings at the Lansing State Journal and at the Idaho Stateman in Boise.

Keefer likes the way both Red Streak and Red Eye approach the news and is optimistic that they are successful in bringing in younger readers, particularly 18 to 24 year olds. “That is a hard to come by age group as far as print goes,” says Keefer, who is responsible for making print decisions for clients like Verizon Wireless. “That’s a big demographic that they are after,” she says of Verizon, which yet to move any dollars from the existing dailies into either of the “Reds.”

Still, Wetli says advertising “has gone better than expected.” With a business model closer to broadcast with a finite amount of inventory, she says Red Eye has sold out several Friday editions since its launch. One high point was a buy from Minicooper, which has not placed much print advertising in Chicago until now. Wetli says they have also been able to take advertising dollars from inner-city nightclubs, restaurants, and boutiques, many of which are too small to place an ad in the Tribune. “They don’t need to get a million people, including people out in Chambord or Crystal Lake, when they just have a boutique in Lincoln Park. It’s too much geography for them. Red Eye is targeted more geographically and demographically.”

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