News International steps up plan for London paper

LONDON - News International has moved closer to launching a London afternoon free paper, registering a potential name, thelondonpaper and appointing a headhunter to recruit a sales director. It is also believed to be setting up distribution through coffee chains, including Starbucks.

Martin Bowley, head of media at headhunter Kendall Tarrant, is understood to be in talks with potential candidates for the sales director role. A possible name and logo for the title, thelondonpaper, has been registered with the Patent Office.

According to industry sources, the newspaper, which has been tested through focus groups, will be a mixture of London and entertainment news.

Media Week first revealed on 9 May that News International was preparing to launch a paper irrespective of whether it wins the contracts for distribution on the London Underground and mainline railway stations.

NI is believed to be confident of winning one or both contracts, but is also looking at a system of distributing the paper outside tube stations and through dump bins on pavements and in coffee shops. The publisher already has an arrangement with Starbucks to sell The Times through in-store racks.

Five companies have registered bids for the Network Rail distribution contract, including NI, Associated Newspapers and Metro International, according to sources.

Guardian Media Group has dropped out. Another bid is believed to have come from two former Financial Times employees. It has been reported recently that Richard Addis, the paper's former design editor, was looking at launching a London paper. A decision on the winning bid is expected next month.

Meanwhile, preferred bidders for the London Underground contract are waiting to receive tender documents, due out next month, with an award expected towards the end of the year.

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