Media Lifeline: London freesheets

Publishers up the ante in the battle for the capital's commuters.

September 2005: City AM, a morning freesheet aimed at City workers, launches in the Square Mile. Run by its chief executive, Jens Thorpe, and the managing director, Lawson Muncaster (pictured), its distribution figure begins to grow, hitting 88,000 copies within months.

October 2005: Metro, the Associated Newspapers morning commuter freesheet that launched in 1999 and has established itself profitably, begins reassessing its position in the light of City AM's success. The imminent offer of new Tube and rail freesheet distribution contracts is also focusing minds. Doug Read, Metro's executive director, says: "We are looking for ways to extend the brand."

June 2006: Network Rail and Transport for London, which had been planning to offer evening freesheet distribution contracts on a separate basis, now enter talks about a single, unified advertising contract covering all Tube stations and London rail termini. Associated Newspapers, Express Newspapers (long believed to have coveted entry to this market) and News International are the likely bidders.

July 2006: News International confirms it is to launch a London freesheet, called thelondonpaper, on 18 September. Ian Clark (pictured) is confirmed as the managing director and a former Campaign editor Stefano Hatfield is named editor.

Now: As City AM celebrates its first anniversary, the market goes into overdrive. Associated ditches Standard Lite (a spoiler product originally designed to deter Express Newspapers from launching an evening freesheet against the Evening Standard). It brings forward the launch of its replacement, London Lite, as it prepares to go head to head with thelondonpaper, which has also brought forward its launch date.

Fast forward ...

November 2006: The first indications suggest that this is going to be a long, bloody war of attrition that neither Associated nor News International can win. Distributors employed by both camps are charged with a range of public order offences following a week of sporadic violence across the West End. Muncaster hires an armoured personnel carrier and awaits developments from the top of Ludgate Hill.

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