Generation Free has implications for all companies

Metro, thelondonpaper, London Lite, ShortList and Sport are now ubiquitous presences on UK streets.

Steve Barrett, editor of Media Week
Steve Barrett, editor of Media Week

And, as Metro celebrates its first decade of existence, it's timely to evaluate the impact free media has had on consumers' habits and, by extension, on media owners and advertisers.

The world of free is inherently interlinked with the rise of the internet, but, in this week's Media Week profile, Associated Newspapers' free division managing director Steve Auckland explains that, while he anticipates free will ultimately migrate to mobile devices, there is still plenty of mileage left in the free print model.

His audience of "affluent urbanites" - average age 36 - consumes Metro on the way to work. In a decade, it has become a respected media brand and is profitable.

A recent seminar organised by thelondonpaper shed some interesting light on the younger, Generation Y audience - or Generation Free as the Wapping-based paper dubs it. These 16 to 30-year-olds are crucial to the future strategies media companies must adopt to ensure longevity for their business models.

Facebook's Trevor Johnson, who is in charge of market development, EMEA, at the social utility, told the seminar this generation had grown up without using a landline phone, didn't watch TV according to a traditional schedule and expects to access content on a handheld device. This audience is used to getting things for free - but doesn't equate free with inferior. They don't pay with money, rather with something they consider even more valuable: time. As well as free papers, Google, Wikipedia, Spotify, Skype, Flickr, iPlayer and Facebook are their modus operandi.

Because of this, I doubt newspapers can ever return the genie to the bottle and charge for their wares online.

There have been murmurings of titles such as The Independent and The Times considering charging for content online. But newspapers made their bed years ago when they decided to go down the high traffic/advertising route, rather than paid-for. The new generation of consumers wants high-quality content and products - and it wants them for free. Media companies must adjust their businesses accordingly and come up with imaginative ways to make the advertising and sponsorship models around their content work harder.

Steve Barrett is editor of Media Week, steve.barrett@haymarket.com, mediaweek.co.uk/stevebarrettblog

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