LONDON (Reuters) – They may not know it, but hundreds of workers lining up across central London to hand out free newspapers on Monday are on the front line of a high-stakes media battlefield.
In the one corner sits Rupert Murdoch’s News International and its long-awaited freesheet “thelondonpaper”; in the other sits Associated Newspapers and “London Lite.”
The papers, locked in a fight for the capital’s young commuters, are aiming for the 18- to 34-year-old market of urbanites who have turned away from the country’s traditional, paid-for newspapers in favor of the Internet.
Both papers claim to be packed full of news, entertainment, sport and listings for the tired commuter who wants something light to read on the way home from work.
“I don’t think you’ll find the young home-going commuter is going to want a huge analysis of the Middle East conflict,” a spokesman for News International said.
“They want something that suits their lifestyle.”
“London Lite,” published by the Associated division of Daily Mail & General Trust, will be handed out in central London from midday with an expected circulation of 400,000 copies. It has gained a slight advantage in the market after it launched last week.
Its rival will hit the streets for the first time at 1530 GMT on Monday, distributed in central London and at the financial center of Canary Wharf.
A unit of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, News International also owns the Sun tabloid and the Times of London.
Analysts say Britain’s traditional newspapers will be watching closely to monitor the free papers’ success but there will be one paper watching more closely than others.
London’s paid-for Evening Standard, which is also published by Associated, has already seen its circulation drop and could suffer from the new competition. It has recently increased its price to 50 pence.
A spokesman for News International told Reuters they were confident of success despite the difficult market, which has seen the migration of readers and lucrative classified advertising to the Internet in recent years.
“This paper will serve a market that hasn’t been served before,” he said. “We believe that there is advertising there to support a paper like this and we’ve set no limits on the success. ”
The introduction of the two free papers follows the success of Associated’s free morning title, the Metro, and Steve Auckland, head of Associated’s Free Newspaper Division said they were confident they could replicate that success.
“As the phenomenal success of Metro has proved — and as the only company to have successfully launched new newspapers in London — Associated is uniquely placed to understand this most exciting of newspaper markets,” he said.