10 years of Metro UK

Monday 16 March Metro UK, “the most profitable free newspaper in the world” (2008 Annual Report), will celebrate its 10th anniversary. Metro UK, owned by DMGT’s Associated Newspapers division (The Daily Mail), is also by far the biggest free daily published in one country (the total of the joined Metro International editions is higher).

The free daily made its first profits within one year and has been profitable ever since, in 2008 growing 18% in advertising revenues. Readership is 3.2 million, making it the 4th best-read newspaper in the UK (after The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Daily Mirror).

In the graph below (click on it for bigger version) the growth is visible, starting with 125,000 in London in March, adding Birmingham, Manchester and Scotland later that year and Leeds/Sheffield (Yorkshire) and Newcastle in 2000.

In 2004 Leicester/Nottingham/Derby (East Midlands) and Bristol/Cheltenham/Bath (Southwest) were added; followed by Liverpool and Cardiff in 2006.

All local editions have a rather stable circulation, but in London Metro now has a circulation (750,000) five times higher than ten years ago. (data ABC)

One of the most important reasons for the success of Metro UK is that the paper has an (almost) monopoly position in most markets where they are distributed. In some markets (London, Manchester, Liverpool, Scotland) there is competition in the afternoon, but no other free newspaper is published in the morning to compete with Metro.

Monopoly, however, never came easy for Metro. In London the publisher had to move quickly and secure the Tube distribution contract to beat Metro International. The Swedes launched in 2000 in Newcastle but without London, a free paper in the UK proved to be impossible. Newcastle was sold to Trinity Mirror who operated a Metro franchise in the city. Also in Glasgow, Birmingham, Newcastle, Liverpool and Cardiff Metro is jointly published by Associated Newspapers and Trinity Mirror.

The Manchester edition is published as a franchise by the Guardian Media Group and is the result of a merger (after legal battles over the Metro name) of GMG’s Manchester Metro (the daily version of their long standing weekly free paper) and News North-West, the Associated Newspapers free daily. The Yorkshire edition is published with Regional Independent Media (Johnston Press).

In London Metro competes for advertising with two afternoon free dailies: London Lite (also by Associated Newspapers) and the londonpaper (by Rupert Murdoch’s News International). Apart from that, also free business daily City AM is published in the capital.

In Ireland Associated is publishing a Metro since 2005 while the company acquired a Dubai version, called 7Days, in 2006. 7Days is also profitable, but the Irish edition, competing with INM’s Herald AM is losing money – both titles will probably merge soon (see previous post).

In Ireland Metro International is Associated’s partner, while it also works together with Metro International on international advertising, which probably also shows that changing competitors into partners might be a smart idea.

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