Metro is far and away Britain's most successful national newspaper. Over the past year, its distribution has increased along with its geographical spread. Its advertising volume and revenue has increased. It made bumper profits in the 12 months up to October 2010 after enjoying years of money-making before that. Recession? What recession?
The article goes into some length explaining why Metro isn't a "real" newspaper, but it's not relevant to my point here so I'll pass.
My point is that the argument that newspapers can't survive on advertising alone is bunk. Right now several major newspapers are pushing to enact paywalls s they can charge their readers directly. The Times of London already have one; the NYTimes keep intending to launch theirs. But opposite those "real" newspapers is the Metro, a national daily that don't charge their readers even the newsstand price. They charge nothing, and yet they're quite healthy.
The only conclusion I can draw from that the free business model works, and the reason it's not working for the "real" press is that they're encumbered with a blinkered mindset. They need to change and adapt, and they're either unwilling or unable to do so.