MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON: LONDON NEWSPAPER MARKET - Associated launch could see a renewed London press war. Maxwell was crushed but the Standard faces a new danger, Alasdair Reid says

When it comes to spoilers, Associated Newspapers is in a class of its own and perhaps its proudest moment in this field came back in 1987 when it blew the London Daily News - one of Robert Maxwell’s many folie de grandeur - out of the water within days of launching.

When it comes to spoilers, Associated Newspapers is in a class of

its own and perhaps its proudest moment in this field came back in 1987

when it blew the London Daily News - one of Robert Maxwell’s many folie

de grandeur - out of the water within days of launching.



A ’metro’ newspaper with several editions throughout the day, the Daily

News was intended not only as a morning paper for commuters but was also

aimed at the Evening Standard’s afternoon heartland.



Associated was incredibly nervous, seemingly hypnotised in Maxwell’s

headlights. But D-Day for Cap’n Bob spelled D as in disaster. He woke

that morning to find that Associated had relaunched a tatty version of

the Evening News - the title that had been folded into the Evening

Standard several years before. It had 24 tabloid pages and cost 15p. It

was big on pictures, low on copy and scruples.



London’s commuters were confused. One day, the geezer with the shuffling

feet, flat cap and fingerless mittens had one title to sell from his

pitch by the tube station steps. The next day he had three. ’Got that

new paper mate?’ He certainly had.



Some believed that the fallout from that conflict had cast a permanent

blight on the London newspaper market - but last week it sparked into

life again. Confirming a story that Campaign broke exclusively last

month (6 November), Associated announced that it had plans for a

freesheet aimed at London’s commuters.



The paper will be given away each morning on the concourses of London

tube stations and will launch next spring with a 350,000 print run - out

of a potential market of 800,000 tube users. It will take as its

blueprint the chain of Metro commuter freesheets own-ed by the Swedish

media owner, Modern Times Group, which has developed successful versions

of the title in Gothenburg, Budapest and Prague as well as

Stockholm.



But why? Associated is doing rather nicely, thank you, with its paid-for

Evening Standard. Surely this can do nothing but damage its existing

London business? The clue is to be found in recent rumours that rival

publishers are looking at the potential for a morning freesheet.



Most worryingly, since the late summer, MTG has been quietly

transferring senior expertise from Stockholm to an upgraded Metro

International office in London. Associated put two and two together and

got London Metro.



The most obvious question is whether Associated is just doing another

spoiler. Does it seriously want to develop this project or is it merely

scorching some earth? As it happens, the launch plans would have been

announced weeks ago but for the London Fire Brigade’s worries that all

this underground newsprint will constitute nothing more than a fire

hazard.



According to Steve Goodman, the director of press at the Media Business,

it all depends on Associated’s editorial strategy. There has been

speculation that the new title will be no more than an upgraded version

of the Standard’s Hot Tickets supplement, with a big focus on

entertainment, advertising and listings. MTG’s Metro titles, though, are

grown-up newspapers, with home and international news and strong

features sections.



Goodman comments: ’This has to be a credible newspaper. Advertisers have

no problem with using freesheets as long as they are good. Given that

it’s available in the mornings, it shouldn’t damage the Standard too

much, though it will be attractive to floating readers of the popular

and mid-market nationals.’



If Associated gets it right, this could become an advertising and

circulation problem for the nationals. Consumers in the South-east are

affluent and influential, and, in these days of falling newspaper sales,

a potential circulation of 800,000 is not to be sniffed at.



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