London freesheet war nears 10th anniversary

According to the Guardian, News International (thelondonpaper) rejected an offer by DMGT (Metro & London Lite) to talk about ending the costly London freesheet war between them.

DMGT is now thinking about options for the afternoon market. One of these is closing the paid Evening Standard, less radical choices would be lowering the cover price or converting it into a free paper.

The last option would mean the end of London Lite. The Standard distributes around 300,000 copies, more than 40% is already free.

Murdoch’s thelondonpaper distributes 100,000 copies more than the 400,000 of London Lite, but the last paper has slightly more readers (more than a million against 960,000 for thelondonpaper).

Guardian’s Roy Greenslade hopes that News International will do the ‘honorable thing’ and make peace with DMGT, but is not at all convinced that Murdoch will do such a thing. In fact, he accuses News International more or less of starting the war of total destruction:

But it’s hard not to view Murdoch’s encroachment of DMGT’s territory as nothing less than a ruthless attempt by one of the world’s largest media conglomerates to ruin the finances of a lesser rival. (DMGT is a large and wealthy entity, of course, but Murdoch’s News Corporation is in a different league).

This seems to be a simplification as the London freesheet war started already in beginning of 1999 and has been littered with spoilers, lawsuits and personal vendetta’s. It was a dirty war from the beginning on.

  • Metro London was launched as a spoiler, meant to prevent Swedish Metro International starting in London. DMGT/Associated Newspapers hired Metro Int. staff to do the job.
  • In 2001 Murdoch’s News International wanted to launch a free daily in London with a morning and an evening edition. Plans were shelved because of Metro’s monopoly contract with London Underground (contested at the Office of Fair Trading – a process that dragged on for years) and also because Metro secured another contract with Railtrack, distribution was impossible without such contracts.
  • In 2004 Richard Desmond (Express, Star) wanted to launch his own free afternoon paper: London-i. As a reaction DMGT (Evening Standard) launched Standard Lite – a spoiler as well. Bad blood between Desmond and Rothermere (DMGT) certainly played a role in this case.
  • In 2005 the Office of Fair Trading made its decision after four years, the exclusive afternoon slot had to be opened up. The decision was very much welcomed by London mayor Ken Livingstone – who was therefore campaigned against by the Evening Standard and Lite even more.
  • Before the bidding process was done, Murdoch announced thelondonpaper, to be handed out on the streets. DMGT reacted without hesitating, first doubling the circulation of Standard Lite to 150,000, in August converting it to London Lite, further increasing the circulation to 400,000.
  • Both News International and DMGT are now engaged in a ‘phony’ expansion with both companies trademarking their brands and registering Internet domain names in more than a dozen other cities in the UK.

It takes two to tango but also two to make a war in this case…

One Response to “London freesheet war nears 10th anniversary”

  1. Newspaper Innovation » Blog Archive » thelastlondonpaper Says:

    [...] covered this before (see previous post) and my analysis of the London newspaper war is not that of Murdoch spoiling the market for poor [...]