When Rupert Murdoch jumps on board
a new medium, you know it has arrived. So the news that his company
News International is set to launch its own free daily, the London Paper, has set the cat among the pigeons at Trafalgar Square.

And the scale of the enterprise – 700 distributors handing out papers
for three hours a day – and the fact that it is Murdoch in the driving
seat has put the fear of God into rival Associated Newspapers, owner of
free daily titles the Evening Standard and Metro, says The Guardian‘s Roy Greenslade.
“Here is a man who backs his media gambles with big money and a fierce
determination to win. His competitive spirit is backed by instinct,
experience, deep pockets and a willingness to play the long game.
That’s scary.”

In fact, reading online newsletter Free Daily Newspapers
– subtitle, “the reinvention of the newspaper” – you might even think
the media tycoon is a bit late on the uptake. According to FDN’s
website, there are now free daily newspapers in 39 different countries
around the world, including our very own, with 27 million copies read
by tens of millions of people daily.

A bit of history. The
concept of a free daily newspaper distributed through public transport
was introduced in 1995 (after three years in the making) in Sweden with
the launch of Metro. In the 11 years since, they have been
introduced in almost every European country and in several markets in
the US, Canada, South America, Australia and Asia – failing to take in
only in two countries, Germany and Japan.

And the competition? The market leader, again, is the Metro. After its 1995 introduction, Metro
launched free papers in the Czech Republic (1996); Hungary (1998);
Holland and Finland (1999); Chile, USA, Italy, Canada, Poland, Greece,
Argentina, Switzerland and the UK (2000); Spain and Denmark (2001);
France, Hong Kong and Korea (2002); and Portugal (2004). According to
the Metrowebsite, 57 daily Metro editions are published in 81 major cities in 18 countries in 17 languages (as at August 2005). Metro International is now based in Luxembourg while its headquarters are in London.

In London, however, Murdoch is up against an Evening Standard
monopoly that has endured for a generation. But it’s not resting on its
laurels. In preparation for the looming battle for a slice of London’s
advertising market, the paper’s owners have spent the summer flooding the capital with copies of Standard Lite,
the slimmed-down morning edition of its evening paper, and distributing
the freesheet outside up to dozen additional tube stations in a bid to
safeguard its sister title.

As for Murdoch, one of the
fascinating aspects to his strategy is the move to launch ahead of the
decision by Network Rail and London Transport to award the afternoon
contract to use their stations for dump-bin distribution, says
Greenslade. “Who will bother paying much, if anything, for that
privilege when people are entering the stations already carrying the
London Paper they were given outside?”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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