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
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
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
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.