King of the world's free dailies preaches coexistence

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2006, 12:00am

Just the mention of the Swedish-based free daily Metro International - the world's largest chain of free newspapers - is enough to make even the flintiest of newspaper proprietors quake in their boots.

It might be one reason why the president and chief executive of the group, Pelle Tornberg, goes to such lengths to calm the nerves of jumpy advertising executives at the regular dailies.

He said there was no reason why Metro and the metropolitan dailies could not coexist - despite the fact that Metro sucks up advertising spending wherever it goes.

'We have no intention of becoming the world's largest daily, but we keep on growing,' Mr Tornberg told Media Eye.

Established in Sweden 10 years ago, Metro International now publishes 17 editions globally.

Daily readership stands at a staggering 17.2 million with a circulation of 7.48 million copies a day, making it the world's third-largest circulated daily behind the Japanese dailies Yomiuri and Asahi.

In many respects, the free daily works to a similar business model as terrestrial television stations - both are delivered free and earn their living from advertising revenue.

Mr Tornberg argues that in reality the free daily is competing with television rather than other newspapers.

'However, our prime time is during the morning rush hour, and we aim to have our readers turning the pages of Metro within 20 minutes,' he said.

The freebie newspaper, which uses its multi-city network to generate international advertising sales, is aimed at providing readers with what they need to know before they step into the office, and advertising is similarly designed to be short and punchy.

It is a formula that has attracted some heavyweight clients, including handset vendor Nokia and British Airways. 'We have built up a good branding image which is creative and credible,' Mr Tornberg said, adding that the daily attracted an apolitical readership.

He said established dailies had nothing to fear from the emergence of Metro, with research showing that more than 40 per cent of the newspapers readers also bought local papers.

He said the company had been successful in different markets due to the localisation of its content tailored to meet the interests of a city's readers.

'People just don't have the time to get information from traditional paid newspapers,' Mr Tornberg said, adding that traditional paid dailies needed to position themselves for in-depth analysis, leaving the free dailies to provide compact news grabs.

Metro, he said, also leveraged its global network to provide first-hand information on international news, and did not simply rip from the wires.

'We have about 500 editorial staff around the world. Some editions have launched a dedicated international news page by using Metro's feature stories,' Mr Tornberg said.

taiwan challenge

With the success of its Hong Kong operation, Metro Publishing Hong Kong, the publisher of Metro in Hong Kong, is considering expanding its business to Taiwan.

The management conducted a feasibility study on launching a free newspaper in Taipei.

'We have visited a site in Taipei and met with suppliers and distributors to know more about the market,' Peter Kuo, the chief executive of Metro Hong Kong, told Media Eye.

'I haven't prepared the proposal for our headquarters, so it is unlikely to be launched this year.'

The expansion of Metro to Taiwan will mark a new challenge for the newspaper industry after Jimmy Lai Chee-ying's Next Media brought Apple Daily there in 2003. It had the largest readership of any paper in 2005.

In Taipei, United Daily News publishes a free daily named Cola targeting young readers.

Other paid dailies such as United Daily News and China Times are also giving away some sections of the daily to attract new readers.