Metro managing director Steve Auckland today fired a warning shot at News International amid speculation thelondonpaper might switch to mornings if it can grab the London Underground distribution contract from Associated Newspapers.
Auckland, speaking at a breakfast briefing to celebrate Metro’s 10th birthday, said it would be “weird” from a marketing point of view if News International was switch to mornings after spending what he estimated was £40m to £50m on launching an afternoon paper.
He maintained that even if Metro was outbid for the Tube contract, up for renewal next year, it could still distribute the same number of copies by handing them out outside stations.
“We have a figure in mind and will bid for the contract, but we will not endanger the business by overbidding,” he said.
He added that even if Metro lost the contract, “NI would find Metro still there in the morning”.
Auckland said that Metro, which now has a total distribution of 1.3 million across the country and claims a readership of more than 3.3 million, was suffering a “tough market” in the recession like the rest of the press.
But he said it was determined to expand in the UK and Ireland as well as in the Middle East, where Associated publishes 7 Days in Dubai, once the recession is over.
Metro’s target is a readership of “urbanites” who have a strong appeal to advertisers. It also wants to invest in digital. “If urbanites are moving to digital, we aim to be there,” Auckland said.
Free papers in a recession
There were also reassuring comments about the future of London Lite, despite the sale of the London Evening Standard to Alexander Lebedev this month.
Auckland said London Lite would continue to pay the Standard for a news feed, as it had done when owned by Associated.
He did admit, however, that the recession would probably put back the date Lite was anticipated to make a profit, which had been estimated as five to six years away.
Auckland said he was confident that free papers could survive an advertising recession and said Metro was still making profits.
He seemed proudest of the way Metro had changed the image of free newspapers since its launch on 16 March 1999 – when Posh and Becks got married – with just 85,000 copies.
Auckland said the title had attracted a “lost generation” of young newspaper readers and transformed the media landscape.
“Up until then, the perception of frees was as a bit of a rag, not sexy and struggling to get young urbanites,” he said.
Metro claims to have won over a sceptical ad industry since launch and paved the way for more quality frees, such as Shortlist and London Lite.
Auckland said that despite cuts, Metro now had an editorial staff of 115 – “probably bigger than The Independent”.
Outside London, Metro is distributed in Brighton, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham, Bristol, Bath, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Cardiff.
It claims to be the country’s fourth biggest national.