WORLD: MEDIUM OF THE WEEK - Washington Post's Express finds a new audience

The daily freesheet has an impressive reach in the US city, Pippa Considine says.

The Washington Post commands international respect. Despite being a regional daily, its fame as a serious broadsheet reaches across the globe.

With such a strong brand, it's not surprising that The Washington Post Company is joining the fray in the daily freesheet market.

Its new weekday tabloid, Express, launched this summer and is distributed free at Metro stations throughout the Washington area.

Express is designed to be a quick, 15-to-20-minute read and its full-colour pages carry the usual mix of world and local news, sports, entertainment, career, health and travel stories.

With a number of publishers launching freesheets across the US and with pros such as Metro International sizing up the various US city markets, why did The Washington Post invest?

"Commercially, we think that it will be good business and it will create an additional way for us to reach readers," Christopher Ma, the publisher of Express, says.

He thinks it was extremely important, if there were going to be new distribution models in the paper's home market, to ask: "Why shouldn't it be us?"

Given Washington's busy underground system and the preponderance of upscale people travelling in America's political capital, it does seem to be a good spot for a commuter freesheet.

"It was an attractive demographic," Ma says, "really busy people on the move, many of whom are young and many of whom are infrequent or non-newspaper readers." And although the market wasn't empty, Ma explains that the only potential rival had a more local spin to its editorial.

Although Express is published as a separate entity, with its own editorial team and much of its content syndicated, it is clearly branded as a sister title to The Washington Post. "It does make a difference," Ma says. "I think the brand has helped to validate our news judgment and provide important credibility."

The back office and the sales and marketing operation are shared across titles, which allows for cross-selling and cost efficiencies.

Ma is quick to assert that there has been no noticeable cannibalisation of the parent title. The Washington Post, with a circulation of 760,000 is a respected and authoritative read, but does not have the same younger audience. Express, with its target audience of 18- to 34-year-old readers, would seem a canny way of expanding the readership and Express readers are being directed to The Washington Post and its website.

So, after a couple of months on the streets, how is the new publication faring? The Washington Post Company is happy so far, especially with anecdotes of copies finding their way into the White House. "As with any publication it will take time to develop," Ma says, "But we're pretty much where we want to be."

Format: daily tabloid freesheet

Daily number of copies distributed: 125,000

Readership: 200,000

Ad rates: $1,800 full page

Ownership: The Washington Post Company

Launch: 4 August, 2003

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