Free ‘Metro’ Papers Find Youth Audience

By: Lucia Moses

Before the Chicago Tribune‘s RedEye and its brethren, another new kind of newspaper was aiming for young readers. Metro International S.A.’s two U.S. papers have gained followings among young readers while putting traditional dailies on the defensive.

Gallup surveys show 35.6% of Philadelphia Metro‘s readers are aged 18 to 34 and that 28% of Boston Metro‘s readers are 25 to 34. Readers also tend to be female professionals who attended college. The Metros‘ publishers say readers like the tabloids because they’re free, easily obtained, and a quick read. They’re delighted they may have influenced the new youth-aimed spinoffs of traditional dailies, in Chicago and elsewhere. “I think they were enticed by the potential, eager to protect their younger flanks, and struck by the quick traction we’re getting,” said Russel Pergament, publisher of the 1 1/2-year-old Boston Metro.

What started as commuter papers distributed along transit routes are now billed as “time-slot” reads. Each Metro distributes around 165,000 copies each weekday on campuses and in office buildings as well as near transit stops.

Their presence hasn’t gone unnoticed by tabloid competitors that rely heavily on single-copy sales. The Boston Herald, whose weekday circ slid 6.3%, to 242,957, in the six months ended Sept. 30, conceded recently to the Boston Business Journal that Boston Metro has caused some erosion.

To meet the challenge, the Philadelphia Daily News has added hawkers and made sure papers were available at commuter stops where Metro is distributed. Tough year-over-year comparisons, not Metro, were to blame for a recent circ decline, said Mike Proebstle, circulation vice president for Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., which runs the Daily News. But, he added, the paper continues to keep an eye on Metro “on a daily basis.”

A critical and still-unanswered question is whether Metro is a second read or is finding a new audience, as Philly Metro Publisher Jim McDonald believes. In any case, both Metros are making inroads with advertisers. Recent copies boasted full-page ads from H&M and Filene’s department stores, Fleet Bank, and Verizon Wireless. The two U.S. papers reported third-quarter ad sales rose 63% and operating losses fell 68%. Pergament said Boston is close to turning a profit.

And the Metros are going even harder for the youth vote. Both now distribute on campuses 40,000 to 50,000 copies of monthly spinoffs, launched in the past year. McDonald said the goal is “making young readers ours for good.”

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