Sun launches `b' free paper, Web site for ages 18-34

April 15, 2008|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN REPORTER

The Baltimore Sun Media Group launched a free daily newspaper and Web site yesterday targeting young adults, part of the media company's effort to broaden its audience at a time of declining revenue and increased competition in the newspaper industry.

The company, which publishes The Sun, distributed the 40-page inaugural issue of b in 1,000 bright orange newspaper boxes and in 1,400 drugstores, convenience stores and athletic clubs in metropolitan Baltimore. It also launched bthesite.com.

"It really is going well," said Timothy J. Thomas, vice president of business development, who said the company printed 75,000 copies of b for its debut. "They're kind of flying off the shelves."

The tabloid newspaper and Web site will focus on news, sports and entertainment news and blogs and listings geared to readers in the 18- to 34-year-old range. It plans to rely on reader-generated material for about a third of its content. The rest will come from its staff of about 20 and The Sun and other Tribune Co.-owned newspapers and entertainment listings from the company's metromix.com site as well as Metromix sites in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. The tabloid also has struck content-sharing agreements with local radio stations WTMD-FM and WNST-AM.

The first issue featured a cover story of photographs sent in by readers shown at sites around the city, a section of reader "rants" and opinions and staff columns and blogs. Online readers will be able to upload photos and videos.

"This truly is a daily conversation with our target audience," said Brad Howard, b general manager.

Steven Duke, associate professor of journalism at Northwestern University, said similar young adult-targeted newspapers, such as RedEye, published by the Chicago Tribune, and Quick, by The Dallas Morning News, have succeeded by distributing in places where young readers congregate.

But the economy makes it a hard time for any new publication, he said. Yesterday, one of the two free dailies in Boston, BostonNOW, shut down, noting economic conditions faced by primary investors. Baltimore now also has two free dailies - the other being the Examiner.

"Advertisers have been pulling back from print media the last few years, even before the economy tanked, and advertisers' natural inclination in a poor economy is to advertise less," Duke said. "That's going to make it more difficult."

Thomas said the reaction from advertisers has been better than expected. Baltimore Sun Media Group expects to distribute about 50,000 copies of b a day and expand to 100,000 by year's end.

Besides distributing b in boxes and at Royal Farms, CVS, Mr. Tire, Brick Bodies and Merritt Athletic Clubs, the company will have "samplers" handing out papers. About 70 volunteer employees handed out papers yesterday.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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