Wake up read for commuters

pursuers of the Scarlet Pimpernel, they seek them there. There being the Dart stations,
Luas stops and Dublin Bus queues where commuters congregate early each morning on
the way to work. But unlike those chasing the capture-avoiding hero of the
novels by Baroness Orzcy, their mission is more obvious and less fraught with

The task is
simple: get a copy of the free newspaper into each commuter's hand.

The hope then is that the commuter will spend about 20 minutes reading it and the
paper's advertisers will gain along the way. Each weekday morning until about 9.15am,
Dublin's transport network is awash with free newspapers as the Metro blues take on the Herald AM reds for readers' attention
and a slice of the capital's newspaper market.

Metro is a joint venture between The Irish Times and Associated
Newspapers, both with 45 per cent. Metro International has the other ten per
cent. Together, they have invested over €10 million in the venture. The basic
premise of the business in Dublin is the same as elsewhere – commuter-led, research focused and with an emphasis on distribution.

average indicates that currently half of all Metro copies are distributed to rail users, with 24 per cent going to motorists and 21 per cent to people on city centre streets. Only five per cent are sent to offices. This year, the aim is to switch from road users to rail commuters (56 per cent), bus (seven per cent) and offices taking ten per cent.

As Steve Auckland, managing director, Metro UK, said while addressing Dublin's first free newspaper seminar, motorists find it difficult to read while driving and with the high proportion
of single-occupant cars in the capital, it makes sense to focus elsewhere. He added that morning time is ideal to get people when they are at their most receptive.

Neuroscience research has shown that in a busy, noisy and stressful environment when commuters are travelling to work by train or bus, the levels of neurotransmitters in the human brain will rise and this helps to concentrate and block out distractions.

Figures released by TGI indicate a Metro readership of 135,000. Each copy has on average 1.98 readers; 73 per cent are aged 18-44; 66 per cent are ABC1 and 51 per cent claim not to read another daily newspaper. Its ‘Urban Life' study by TNS mrbi points out that 83 per cent of young commuters travel to work at the same time each day.

Metro boss Lee Thompson says the arrival of the free newspapers has not had a major impact on the sales of the paid-for titles. “There's no substitution effect,” Thompson said, “people haven't stopped the paid-for newspapers in favour of us. What is happening is that new people are reading Metro and we're bringing new readers into the market.”

Lee Thompson

'Metro is a newspaper which just happens to be free'

– Lee Thompson

In Germany, where curiously there is no Metro, or any other similar free newspaper, sales of paid-for titles have dropped. Hamburg publisher Axel Springer rejoices that there are no free titles. As Piet Bakker from the University of Amsterdam told delegates at the Metro seminar, they say “every day without a free newspaper is a very good day”.

Yet, Bakker added, the Germans looked to eastern Europe and other markets to launch free
newspapers, so it is not as if they do not believe in their value. Spain and Portugal have more free newspapers than paid-for titles. Monopolies in free titles are rare, apart from Eastern Europe. Franchise arrangements with publishers work best.

Thompson points to what makes a free newspaper a success. Firstly, the right people and for Metro that means urbanites.The product must be simple and formulaic. Avoid fancy layouts. Public transport users are a priority, not car users. The cut-off time for distribution is 9.30am and under no circumstances should the deadline be ignored.

He points to research which indicates that there are about 69,000 people in Dublin who do not read another newspaper. There is a degree of dual pick-up which is understandable given that a Dart commuter might get on at Greystones and they have a journey of 50 minutes ahead of them before they reach the city centre, so they take the two papers.

Thompson insists it is not about a battle of the printing presses. For him, it is about
delivering an audience and the degree of engagement the product has with readers. Metro has a “a very concentrated readership” and by that Thompson means they have the most 18-34-year-old readers, 18-44 year old readers and more ABC1s than The Irish Times.

Thompson's career began in 1994 with a two-year stint with the Mirror Group in Scotland.
He then joined Associated Newspapers in 1996 where he was part of the original online advertising team that went on to launch sites like ‘This is London'.

In 1999, he was headhunted by Yahoo! to become their sales director for the UK
and Ireland and was involved in the rise, fall and rise again of the internet. He travelled
overseas in 2003 and then returned to Ireland to handle various media projects.

He worked with the likes of Buy & Sell on their web businesses. He joined Metro in April 2005 and the newspaper was launched in October. His late father, John
Thompson, spent a lifetime in newspapers, most notably in spearheading The Star from inception.

Free 'n' Easy


Metro distributors on the streets of Dublin. Some 75,000 copies of the free newspaper are distributed and read each morning in the capital. Figures released by TGI indicate a Metro readership of 135,000 and 73 per cent of readers are aged between 17 and 44.

Paul Moran of Mediaworks disagrees with Thompson on the issue of whether or not the free titles impact on paid-for sales. Moran said the free newspapers are affecting sales, particularly in relation to the ‘red tops'. One only has to study recent ABC figures to see evidence
of the trend. But Moran is a fan of the two “freesheets”, as he calls them.

“They've opened the mindset in Dublin in much the same way as the Galway Advertiser did. They reach young and mobile consumers, difficult people to target at the best of times. The cover wraps are great and both papers haven't taken their foot off the pedal in terms of distribution. My one concern is that they have allowed rates to shoot up.”

A colour page in Herald AM costs €5,015 and in Metro €7,700. Even allowing for discounts, there is a job there for buyers to convince clients. In a recent report, Ciaran Cunningham of Carat pointed out that Metro promised to extend its distribution last year to 100,000 copies as speculation of a Cork launch increased, but neither materialised.


The latest set of verified free distribution figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) for December show that Herald AM distributed an average 82,159 copies per day throughout the period compared to an average 75,047 copies distributed by Metro.

The report showed that an average issue of Metro was distributed across 193 distribution points over the period compared to 146 for Herald AM. The average advertising content per Metro issue was 43 per cent compared to 33 per cent for Herald AM.

ABC verified free distribution data – Dec ‘07 Herald AM Metro
Average net bulk distribution per issue 82,159 75,047
Number of issues in audit period 19 20
Average number of distribution points per issue 146 193
Average issue pagination (pages) per issue 32 34
Average advertising content per issue 33% 43%

Thompson is coy about any moves they may make to distribute Metro in other cities on the island. The most important criteria is the need for a high density of commuters and given the reality of poor transport infrastructure in most urban set-ups in the Republic, the city with most to offer a free newspaper distribution-wise would be Belfast.

Thompson says the plan for 2008 is to make the product more relevant. They have brought
in a new editor, Bristol-born Martin Cowley. New content sections will be added.

As Per Mikael Jensen of Metro International said, advertisers are assured that
exclusive interviews with the likes of Bill Gates are read by 25 million people
in 23 markets.

Sales director Aidan Bolger said half of their newspapers are read ‘in transit'. The
target this year is to increase it to 63 per cent and prioritise commuters' points of departure.

Product sampling is another potential area for growth, with Metro distributors handing out confectionery, soft drinks and personal care products to those on their way to work.

Metro is now part of the Joint National Readership Survey (JNRS), having sought inclusion for some time and despite opposition from the National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI). The JNRS is standard currency for agencies when planning and buying print and inclusion allows Metro to compete on a level playing field.

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