Financially troubled daily Maariv will publish a free evening edition that will be distributed at train stations and major intersections from next month, publisher Shlomo Ben-Zvi announced Sunday.
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As an evening newspaper, the free Maariv will face no competition. The main stumbling block is the high printing and distribution costs of free newspapers.
Maariv's entry into the free newspaper market will put it into a crowded market. Existing morning newspapers include Sheldon Adelson's Israel Hayom, the Israel Post (published by Eli Azur and David Weisman) and expanded free distribution of subscriber-based daily Yedioth Ahronoth.
Ben-Zvi told TheMarker that he plans to print 35,000 copies of the free edition initially, to be distributed across the country. He later intends to greatly expand the size of the print runs and distribution.
"This is essentially the same strategy employed by the newspaper both 40 and 65 years ago," Ben-Zvi said, during a Tel Aviv Journalists' Association conference held in Eilat. "We want the Maariv brand to return to the market, and appear at the intersections. We'll put out an evening edition and leave the morning editions to others."
Ben-Zvi hinted during the conference that he was also looking into buying a television broadcaster, and that he will present a revamped Maariv brand in a month's time that includes an innovative combination of print, digital and television journalism.
The publisher said Maariv has been breaking even on an operating basis since September, after losing an average of NIS 10 million to NIS 13 million a month in the first year he controlled it. "Maybe that's not a journalistic achievement, but it's important for journalism," Ben-Zvi said. "We have to revive the business, otherwise there can't be any press freedom."
Ben-Zvi vowed to overtake the circulation of Yedioth, Israel's biggest newspaper, within four years.
In contrast, during a debate over government support for the press, Yoel Esteron - the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth Group's business daily, Calcalist - attacked the concept of free newspapers (such as Yedioth's archrival, Israel Hayom) as a market failure that threatens to destroy Israeli democracy. He advocated shifting Israeli newspapers to the paywall model that has been adopted by Haaretz online.