It's hard to believe it's almost three years ago now that The Independent launched its compact version and, swiftly followed by The Times, catapulted what many had predicted was a dying medium back into the black in terms of positive PR. Since the launch of the compacts, we've seen newspaper groups moving into newsstand magazines and making myriad internet acquisitions. It's not quite the dull old print business it once was.
True, the national newspaper ABCs for July (released last week) were hardly cause for excitement - total circulation in both the popular and quality sectors were down - but at least newspaper groups are doing something about this and developing new revenue streams online and through mobile. The freesheet market is set to be livened up again (seven years after the launch of Metro in London) by the launch of thelondonpaper from News International. The afternoon launch has excited media buyers because it has been well researched with readers and offers new formats and ad sites to advertisers.
Associated Newspapers should be panicking, but there seems to be a confidence down in Kensington that it knows the London market so well, it can stage a credible fightback involving both the Evening Standard and Metro. Yet, despite massive cost-cutting, the Standard looks to be in a desperate position, while protecting Metro, which makes a profit across the UK of around £10 million, could also prove difficult for Associated.
News International has already indicated that if thelondonpaper is successful, it will look at rolling the model out across the UK. This will provide competition for Metro, a massive ad industry success story, and put pressure on its ad revenues. Media buyers on some brands have had little alternative but to use the title when targeting young commuters in London and some have felt Metro executives have been making merry with their ad rates for rather too long.
Many argue that Metro is now looking "tired", especially when set against thelondonpaper dummies, and would like to see Associated respond with a redesign of the title. If this is the response, competition can be no bad thing for media agencies and their advertisers.
But events such as the launch of thelondonpaper will benefit the whole newspaper industry too. Its launch by no means suggests newspapers are out of the woods, but while indicating that the future daily model is free, also points to a greater emphasis on advertisers' needs. This gives the industry a fighting chance in the battle for share against other media because it has become, by necessity, more advertiser-focused.