A free newspaper for commuters has become available in Yerevan recently. Means of public transportation, including buses, trolleybuses and metro, have special newspaper boxes inside where passengers can take copies of the Champord weekly and read during their commute or beyond.
The chief editor of the first-of-its-kind paper in Armenia is the country’s top chessman Levon Aronian’s Philippines-born Aussie girlfriend Arianne Caoili, who also plays chess professionally and has a degree in economy.
Several attempts at having a free newspaper were made in Armenia in the past, but none of the projects eventually proved commercially sustainable or particularly involved a commuter newspaper idea.
“Every week together with my friends I will make this free newspaper, Champord (Commuter), and I’m going to be next to you on the bus or in the metro. I will come to your home as a guest in the form of this newspaper and then we’ll come out again into the street, maybe a little different, maybe a little changed,” Caoili, a 29-year-old stunner dubbed “the Anna Kournikova of chess” for her good looks, wrote in the first edition of the weekly.
In today’s digital age newspaper reading culture is gradually vanishing, with more and more people finding it more convenient to get their daily news and information online through smartphones and other portable devices. It is mostly middle-aged and elderly people who remain loyal to paper-based newspaper reading.
Still, because of the economic and social conditions in Armenia, many of them cannot afford to buy even relatively inexpensive newspapers.
Distribution of free newspapers as a business model is widely practiced abroad. One of the most successful examples of it is the Metro newspaper, which is published in 15 languages and is available in about two dozen countries.
Champord, which, according to its producers, has a commercial component, but social orientation, has started as a four-page tabloid with mostly urban news and human interest stories, as well as crossword and chess puzzles.
Gohar Hayrapetyan, the Champord development director, says: “The newspaper’s mission is to create a new urban culture, to help people rediscover the love for reading that they once had… Our paper is not a commercial enterprise, it has a social orientation. But considering that it has to cover its costs, it also has advertisements and advertorials. In other words, we use commerce to ensure our social role.”
As for demand for such a newspaper, Hayrapetyan says that their initial expectations have been surpassed. “It was a surprise to us, because almost all of our copies are distributed. Our specialists who check and replenish the boxes in public transport see that people who take more than one newspaper get rebuked by others, because many want to have a copy,” she says.
The newspaper had its first test edition printed in 15,000 copies, but now in reality some 20,000 copies go out every week. This is comparable to the printing runs of leading bi-weeklies in the country.
Hayrapetyan says that the first step in reigniting people’s love for newspaper reading has been done, but more needs to be done for people to stay with the paper-based news. “If the paper publishes good stories, naturally people will see and appreciate it,” she says.
But some journalists and media experts in Armenia remain skeptical about the restoration of newspaper reading culture in the country.
TV commentator Armen Dulyan wrote on his Facebook account: “Unfortunately, this is true for the entire world – people stop reading newspapers. The climax of newspaper reading was about 10 years ago, after which it started to decline. Now the circulations of all newspapers in the world decrease every year by an average of two percent.”
There are only a few newspapers in Armenia that can sell enough copies to survive as commercial enterprises. According to the Mediamax news agency, the best-selling newspapers in Armenia as of recently are Hayastani Hanrapetutyun, Haykakan Zhamanak, Aravot and Chorrord Ishkhanutyun.