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ARLINGTON, Va. — Maybe there’s no such thing as a free lunch — but a free newspaper from Stars and Stripes now is a reality. The high-tech way, at least.

Electronic versions of the three editions of Stars and Stripes now are available for downloading from the Internet free of charge. The electronic versions of the newspaper, electronic replicas of the European, Middle East and Okinawa editions, had been available at the same subscription rate as the daily hardcopy newspaper.

“There are military personnel spread out all over the world and to some, for one reason or another, we can’t deliver the printed version of the paper,” Publisher Tom Kelsch said. “This is fulfilling our mission of getting information to as much of the military as possible.”

The free paper is not limited to members stationed in far-flung regions of the Earth, however. Anyone can download the free e-paper; granted, they’ll need a computer and Internet connection.

While there’s a chance for a potential loss of revenue, which could hurt the daily newspaper as it struggles to fulfill its mission of delivering news to deployed troops, especially those in combat zones, it’s a chance the leadership needs to take in order to deliver on its promise to get the paper to as many readers as possible, Kelsch said.

“But we don’t know if that will be the result,” said Chief Operating Officer Max Lederer. “That’s obviously a concern for the organization. The printed copy of the paper makes money, and Stars and Stripes has to obtain revenue. However, we believe that the printed version of newspaper is still the preferred version,” Lederer said. Readers still like to hold the paper in their hands, or fold it up and take it along, digesting the news at their leisure, he said.

Stars and Stripes is seeking from Pentagon budget officials a budget boost of $5 million this year to cover high costs of delivering the paper worldwide, especially in combat zones.

The electronic version will be marketed for readers who can’t get the daily printed version, particularly those in remote areas, and to the servicemembers’ families in the States. While Stars and Stripes has a circulation of about 75,000, no papers are delivered in the United States. The paper version costs 50 cents a day and 75 cents on Sundays.

A bulk of the circulation, roughly 45,000 newspapers, are delivered to troops in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, with future plans of increasing distribution to about 70,000 in the Middle East region, officials said.

The editorially independent newspaper, which receives about 30 percent of its funding from the Pentagon, kicked off the electronic version last year, but had few subscribers.

The electronic version can be downloaded from menu options found on the left of the stripes.com homepage.

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