How free is free? The limits of free press

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Front Page News?

I was quite stunned to see this morning the front cover of two (of the three) main “free” daily papers — that are distributed to commuters throughout France — where both publications this morning carried EXACTLY the same over-page H&M advertisement.  Good for H&M?  That said, I wonder to what extent each paper was aware that the other paper was carrying the same ad on its cover.  I am guessing not, and that there were some heads that rolled in their respective organizations.  Since Direct Matin and 20 Minutes are free papers, they both live & die by the advertising dollar.  The jury is still out, it seems.  One is apparently in the black (20 Minutes) and the other (Direct Matin) may still be under water (no confirmation).  But, the ability to get a free audience is no easy task in our time-cramped world.

Direct Matin 20 Minutes H&M

Is the FREE newspaper viable?

These two papers are already battling it out in terms of distribution, along with a third paper (“Metro”).  I have a personal preference for 20 Minutes, but the content is rarely very engaging.  While Direct Matin provides an interactive web app (“Direct Flash”) that allows you to explore certain articles further (videos, links, etc.), it is rather devoid of interesting analysis.  So, is the free “real” newspaper a legitimate avenue as opposed to the free media online that are not beset with the physical costs of production and distribution?  If they are beholden and handcuffed by advertisers in the way H&M did this morning, I am going to say no.  For now, I am still expecting the videocast / podcast to take its place in the life of the commuter in France.   What do you think?

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