Tough times have meant an unexpected fillip for the city's free newspapers, with advertisers increasingly using them as a kind of coupon book for bargain-hungry readers. Paid newspapers, by contrast, are having it tougher. Industry watchers say local papers have experienced a gradual decline in circulation since the financial crisis broke in September last year, although no concrete figures are available for comparison. 'Vendors have said that since the stock market slump, readers are buying fewer newspapers, as they want to save money,' one newspaper executive told Media Eye. Before the economic slump, newspaper hawkers had urged publishers to raise the cover price of Chinese-language newspapers to compensate for inflation. Now hawkers voluntarily lower the cover price of morning newspapers by HK$1 and magazines by HK$2 to boost sales. For each copy of a HK$6 Chinese-language newspaper, a hawker earns HK$1.50 to HK$1.70. The discount has not stopped commuters lining up each morning for a free newspaper. 'People now do not mind reading free newspapers, as they are offering similar news as the paid ones,' said one industry watcher. 'Right now, they are benefiting from the 'freebies' offered by restaurants in the form of cash coupons to attract diners.' In Hong Kong, more than 1.34 million copies of Chinese-language free newspapers circulate each day. The top five paid newspapers sell about 1 million copies each day, according to estimates. Maxim MX, a restaurant chain controlled by Maxim Catering Group, published a full-page advertisement in the free Metro Daily last Wednesday to promote a new menu. At the bottom of the advertisement were attached eight cash coupons offering discounts totalling HK$44. Other chains, such as Cafe De Coral, Spaghetti House, Fairwood Fastfood, McDonald's and Ajisen Ramen are also giving away coupons through newspaper advertisements to boost sales. 'It's much cheaper for advertisers to publish a cash coupon in a newspaper ad rather than issuing a separate coupon booklet,' the industry watcher said. However, market watchers say free newspapers face rising pressure from advertisers to cut rates. Why INQ, inquiring minds ask A new mobile-telephone brand needs to have an unusual name to attract consumers these days. Hutchison Whampoa launched last week a mobile-telephone brand called INQ. The name, pronounced 'ink', originates from the first search engine invented in the 1980s, much earlier than Yahoo and Google. It was called Inquire, as the inventor was inspired by a book titled Inquire Within Upon Everything. The brand INQ pays homage to the inventor. Veteran quits Next Media post Next Media announced veteran journalist Tung Chiao had resigned as executive director with effect from yesterday. Mr Tung is now the publisher of Apple Daily in Hong Kong.