The notion of a national freesheet charging higher advertising rates than a paid-for national newspaper was unthinkable a year ago. Yet Associated Newspapers’ Metro is being pitched as a title which delivers an attractive and elusive young ABC1 audience.
Some buyers have objected to being charged a “premium” for this special readership of the title, which was launched in London in March last year and is now available in Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
One buyer says: “In some cases it is looking for significantly more money than national newspapers with higher circulations. I believe there are certain agencies which have turned their backs on the title.”
Metro managing director Mike Anderson says ad rates should not be compared with regional freesheets or even national newspapers.
He argues that because Metro delivers a “unique” readership during an early morning, two-hour period, rates should be compared with other forms of media, such as radio and outdoor, which also target the “uncluttered” minds of ABC1 commuters.
Anderson claims: “The cost efficiency of Metro versus other media is spectacular.”
There is little doubt that London provides a significant pool of young ABC1s who use public transport. More than 800,000 people travel on the Underground more than five times a week, of which 400,000 do not read a national newspaper, according to research (TGI 1999).
London Metro has so far recorded an ABC distribution of 359,710. Anderson hopes to increase this to 410,000 by the end of the year, providing production and distribution timing difficulties are overcome.
The latest figures compiled by BMRB show that of adults in the London ITV region who have read Metro in the past 12 months, 76 per cent were ABC1s and 77 per cent aged between 15 and 44. Anderson claims Metro has a high loyalty among readers, with 81 per cent reading the newspaper almost always or quite often. At least half of the newspaper is read by 73 per cent of readers.
It is unclear whether or not this audience also reads a national newspaper, but there has been an effect – albeit small – on national newspaper sales.
Anderson claims that “the loss of sale is absolutely marginal” for sister title the Daily Mail, which is using Metro to attract new readers through discount vouchers.
Apart from readership profile, the other key attribute Anderson claims for Metro is its reader responsiveness. According to the BMRB research, 30 per cent of the 1.6 million adults who have read Metro in the past four weeks directly responded to ads and editorial offers.
He claims the high response rates are due to the fact that the offers and ads, which are placed in an uncluttered environment – with a 40 per cent ads and 60 per cent editorial ratio – catch people at a time when they are planning their day.
“The advertisers which received the quickest response were the dot-com companies, which poured into Metro,” says Anderson.
But it is a dangerous strategy to rely on high spending dot-coms, many of which may not exist in a year’s time. MindShare press director Paul Thomas says: “The advertising is predominantly response based. The newspaper has to make real inroads into branded advertising. It also needs to get into bed with retailers.”
However, Anderson and his team could have their work cut out as large retail advertisers are used to negotiating heavy discounts on ad rates.
Metro is now selling ad packages nationally by limiting the space available solely for London and charging comparable rates to national newspapers. It is expected that Metro will achieve a distribution of about 680,000 nationally.
As Associated rolls out Metro, it must contend with regional newspaper rivals launching their own versions, as well as the Modern Times Group, which was responsible for launching the Metro idea in Europe.
Associated has also faced legal problems over the use of the Metro name. It was forced to rebrand the Manchester title News North West under the terms of a temporary injunction granted to the Guardian Media Group (GMG), which publishes Manchester Metro News. A final hearing is due in May.
Most buyers agree that the freesheet appears to have been a success in the capital, but question whether affluent young readers can be targeted as successfully elsewhere.
“The profile of commuters in the regions will be different to London,” says one buyer. “In some areas it can only be distributed on buses. People using the bus in the regions are likely to be more downmarket than those using public transport in London.”
Press buyer Caroline Simpson, managing partner and head of press at Zenith Media, cites TGI research which says 60 per cent of employed adults who use public transport in London are aged between 20 and 44, compared with about 30 per cent in other conurbations. Similar figures apply to adults falling into the ABC1 profile group.
Associated is using Mosaic mapping technology to identify travel routes within urban areas outside London, which provide a target market of 8.1 million working adults who do not read a national newspaper (TGI 1999).
“There is a big question mark over whether the quality of audience can be replicated outside London,” says Simpson, who claims there is an insufficient pool of relevant readers using public transport in the first place.
Even GMG regional newspapers chief executive Ian Ashcroft believes it will be harder to attract the same kind of readership in the provinces, where it is easier to travel to work by car.
He adds: “If Associated forces people to buy into the provinces – and get downmarket business commuters – it will be interesting to see how advertisers react.”
Anderson has high hopes for the Metro brand, which he describes as the “Viagra” of the newspaper industry. But its long-term success will ultimately depend on the readership profile of the regional variants – whether or not they are called Metro.