It seems TheNew York Times (NYSE:NYT) is going Hollywood. The media giant will be rolling out a free in-cinema publication come December to Loews Cineplex theater patrons in select markets. OnMovies will be produced 18 times a year, with a targeted circulation of 1.25 million copies.

Featuring everything from movie reviews to celebrity spotlights, the venture seems absurd at first glance. The concept and content may be right, but the target audience is spending the next couple of hours in a dark theater. The reader retention rate may not be all that high beyond that. Theater chains also can't be happy that there is a Home Theater section in the publication, singling out notable DVD releases.

Yet perhaps the real irony here is that the company is rolling out a free print publication just after launching its Times Select premium service, which charges non-subscribers to access certain online content. With sponsors migrating online, one would think that publishers would be trying to make online access as widespread as possible while hiking up rates on print publications to make up for that niche's shortcomings.

So while OnMovies may be a half-baked idea, the real crime would have been if The New York Times had chosen to simply stand still. Print world giants like The New York Times, Knight Ridder (NYSE:KRI), and Gannett (NYSE:GCI) have all been struggling with offline ad sales lately.

The real growth has been online. That's why we've seen Washington Post (NYSE:WPO) purchase popular online magazine Slate and The New York Times acquire About.com. To see The New York Times expand its freebie print offerings may seem counterproductive, but at least OnMovies will be integrating the popular NYTimes.com site into its editorial content. The site will also provide an interactive element to the movie-house rag, with polls, quizzes, and forums.

Maybe the idea isn't so shabby after all. Now if only the concession companies could find a way to subsidize free eats, we would all be going out to the movies more often.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz still enjoys reading the paper in the morning, but finds it obsolete once breakfast has been consumed. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. T he Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.