Israel Hayom, the freebie daily newspaper controlled by Sheldon Adelson – the U.S. billionaire and backer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – has been expanded the press run of its weekend edition by some 70% as the March 17 election approaches.
The newspaper printed 550,000 copies of its Friday paper last week, a far bigger number than the 470,000 it had said it would print, and 70% more than the 400,000 it had been printing before. Its weekday print run remains unchanged at 325,000.
Israel Hayom said it was printing more copies in its race with Yedioth Ahronoth, a paid-for daily and traditionally Israel’s biggest newspaper, to increase circulation and win over more advertisers and higher rates.
According to the market research firm TGF, Israel Hayom has already overtaken Yedioth in the number of weekday readers, although the comparison isn’t exact as Israel Hayom is given away.
“We are continuing to grow by adding an additional goal: To become the most widely read newspaper also on weekends,” a spokesman for the newspaper said. “We are talking about a long-term plan which we have sought to realize by buying our own printing plant. Now that it is working at capacity, we can answer big demand from the public to supply copies to everyone who wants one.”
However, the stepped-up print runs come two weeks before the election and campaigning at Netanayhu’s Likud party is in high gear. Political sources said they are convinced the extra copies are less part of a business plan and more one to help Netanyahu’s reelection bid.
Adelson, who holds far-right political views and has known and supported Netanyahu for over two decades, founded Israel Hayom in 2007.
The paper’s financial reports remain a closely guarded secret, but Israeli media experts believe Adelson has spent at least $50 million to date on the paper, raising accusations in the current campaign that he is flouting campaign finance laws by supporting a candidate through a loss-making newspaper.
Media sources estimate that the stepped-up press run of 150,000 extra copies is costing Israel Hayom between 3 million and 4 million shekels ($750,000 to $1 million) a month. While the newspaper has said growing circulation will pay for itself in more advertising, at current ad rates it would have to enjoy a huge increase in advertising to cover the cost.