Friday, July 25, 2008

Metro interested in U.S. network of papers

The chief executive of Metro International, Per Mikael Jensen (pictured), says he's interested in forming a network with other U.S. free daily publishers to attract national ad dollars. He told in an e-mail:
    A national sales-network could attract national advertisers. The U.S. is very different to Europe in the fact that U.S. doesn't really have any national newspaper at all. The largest by circulation newspaper is USA Today which [reaches] only 1 percent of the population. In Europe, you often find the largest newspaper being both national and covering up to 7-8 percent of the population and in terms of readership reaching more than 20 percent of the adult population.

    We can do the same in America. Imagine a newspaper — or rather, a network of newspapers — all targeting that very hard to reach audience of urban, affluent, active 20-40 year old readers in millions. If we joined forces, we could reach as many as 30 million readers per day and hence really competing with TV, national magazines etc.
Are you listening RedEye? tbt*? Examiner? Dallas Quick?
    And I would be very happy to create the network together with the local players, which in return means that they could maintain their local strength but adding new revenue.
Are you listening Palo Alto, Conway, Vail, Denver, San Mateo, Santa Monica, etc.?
    In fact, if some company decided to invest say $2-$400 million USD I strongly believe that they could create that national network of newspapers that would be extremely competitive in the national market. A 300.000 circ free newspaper with some 50-70 staffers can be run for less than 20 million USD per year. If created in a network, costs would be significantly less for the following editions.

    Could it happen? I strongly believe so. If the local publishers aren't willing to do it, I'm sure somebody else will do it on their own and hence represent maybe the biggest threat to independent, local publishers.
It is almost as if he is laying down the gauntlet! It's time everybody who is in the free daily business, or wants to be, discuss this.

A few thoughts of my own:

1. Metro is now in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Tribune has free dailies in Chicago and Baltimore. The Examiner is in San Francisco, Baltimore and Washington. Belo has one in Dallas. Denver has a strong independent. Freedom newspapers has one in suburban Phoenix. Poynter has one in St. Pete, Fla. And there's a gaggle of free dailies in the San Francisco Bay Area and another gaggle in the Colorado Rockies (Vail, Aspen, etc.). There's a free daily network right now if everybody wants to cooperate.

2. Don't be fooled by the doom and gloom reporting about our economy. Smart investors buy low and sell high. Now's the time for free dailies to invest and prepare for a boom ahead.

3. Paid dailies will soon die, but that doesn't mean print journalism is dead. The demand for free dailies is strong. People prefer the format of a printed paper to one that they have to read online. Printed newspapers will be here for many years to come, but large metro dailies which rely on elderly subscribers are doomed.

4. Free dailies have dominated Canada because the major newspaper chains operate both free and paid papers in each market. As readership in paid papers declines, free daily readership increases. Advertisers end up staying with newspapers, which have kept pace with the times.

Let's have a robust discussion about this. Let's get a national network going. Let's push a few paid daily companies into going national with free dailies. Now is the time.