US free titles up for sale

The top three freebie papers in the US are up for sale.

Metro International, the Swedish owned company, which publishes give-away daily newspapers in many of the world’s major cities, has put its three American properties – including it’s best known Boston Metro – on the auction block.

The others are Metro New York and Metro Philadelphia.

In recent years all three have, it’s said, “pulled down” the company’s earnings.

In the past year the losses have been close to $11 million. News of the impending sale, reported by The Boston Globe, took the staff of Metro Boston and Metro New York by surprise.

Until recently both papers had been looking for new investors. At the same time several potential buyers have quietly looked at the three publications over the past month. One of the potential bidders – at least of Metro New York – is said to be billionaire Phillip Anschutz who already publishes freebie newspapers in San Francisco, Baltimore and Washington.

Two years ago Metro International sold a 49 per cent stake in Metro Boston to The New York Times – which owns The Boston Globe.

But over the past two years the circulation of Metro Boston has dropped from around 180,000 to 170,000, while revenue in the third quarter last year dropped 12 per cent – a disappointment to the NY Times which is having its own financial problems (This week NYT shares dropped to their lowest level this year).

Income was down 5 per cent at Metro Philadelphia and 18 per cent at Metro New York. All three Metro papers are published five days a week and given away at railway and bus stations

Metro International publishes in more that 100 major cities around the world, including Asia, Europe and South America. No-one from the company – according to The Boston Globe – would speak about the projected sale. It is not company policy to talk about acquisitions – or divestitures, a spokesman said.

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