When the first freesheets appeared in Scandinavia, in the 90' and spread all over Europe, including France, the UK and Spain, it seemed that the print industry had found a smart way to stop the falling audience of paying newspapers, a fall that started long before Internet.
At that time, it was explained that Metro or 20 Minutes reached an audience of young suburban people who considered traditional newspapers as expensive and elitists. The first audience figures showed something interesting was happening. People under 30 were really picking up and reading the printed stuff which was offered for free.
In 2015, things look quite different. Freesheets suffer the same diseases as the legacy media they hoped to replace. The tremendous success of smartphones means that travellers in the public transports consult freely their usual web connections and don't bother to read a paper, even if it is free. More and more, the consumption of news goes through the social networks, Google and telephones.
The advertisers have noticed. The ads that finance 100% of the budget of freesheets are massively moving towards Facebook or Google where they find a well connected and exciting audience. These days, most of the free newspapers are losing money.
There is a possible outcome, to drop the print and turn into a full digital service. It is a risky challenge. The only advantage of print is that it is very visible. When some American newspapers turned digital, they lost a great part of their readership because they were lost in the gigantic Internet world.
The other drawback is money. In France, a proper digital news service would cost about 15 millions euros. Can ads bring it when the competition is so fierce with popular sites that drain tens of millions of UV's? Some experts think that to survive, a news website must get at least a monthly 10 millions UVs. Foe the moment, only legacy medias websites from le Monde and le Figaro can reach that level.
It seems that the freesheets era is closing to the end but the battle for news on the Web goes on.