By Shloka Nath| Sep 13, 2010
Metro's head tells us why the world's largest free newspaper remains popular and profitable
Per Mikael Jensen
President and CEO, Metro International
Age: 48 years
Education: Degree in Journalism from the Denmark School of Journalism
Career: 21 years in the media industry including management positions in Danish newspapers such as the Politiken and Jyllands-Posten and CEO of TV2 Denmark.
What are your plans for entering the Indian market?
We are looking at different Asian markets and India, being a huge market, is obviously a big priority for us. We’ve been looking at India for the last five years. Launching a newspaper in India would obviously have to be a joint venture or a franchise. The FDI allows us to own 26 percent of the operation and we have increased our efforts towards exploring the opportunity in India through our India representative, Husain Quettawalla. China is another market we’re looking at. Currently, in Asia we publish in Hong Kong and Korea.
Globally, what kind of success has Metro had?
In Latin America we are in four countries. The two most recent launches in Mexico and Brazil have done extremely well and have become profitable in less than two years, which is very good performance.
When we look at the Indian market, we see some similarities. We are not likely to need a giant market share to become profitable.
In Europe, we are the largest newspaper in Sweden. Then we are in Denmark, Holland, France and Hungary with fully owned operations. We also publish in Russia. The Moscow operation has become profitable within 12 months. In fact, our portfolio of newspapers is showing a profit and we have double digit growth in most of our markets in terms of prices and volumes. Therefore, we are keen to move on in Asia.
Why are you backing the model for free news when most of the world is going forward with paid readership?
We specialise in finding the right audience — urban, metropolitan, well educated people between the ages of 20 and 40. We see a lot of similarities in our audience between Mexico City and Sao Paulo and Paris. They are younger than the paid for readership market. Free is also very convenient. If something is free you don’t have to find your purse in your bag, you don’t have to make a transaction.
Your revenue model is based entirely on advertising and that is not a predictable source of
I don’t want to sound bullish or arrogant but this financial crisis has done some good things for Metro. In most markets, we have taken market share.
I think advertisers, when budgets are tight, they have to spend their money more carefully than they normally do. When you have a high growth situation where money is not an issue, they tend to spend money on the very expensive ways of advertising. When budgets are tighter, they turn to more effective ways of advertising, which we claim to be because compared to our competitors, we have very competitive rates. We haven’t seen a decline in advertising that our competitors have seen. In the last three quarters Metro has delivered one of the best operating results in its history.
In India however, we have a deluge of publications, all competing for advertising. Is that going to affect your ability to charge competitive rates?
No, I don’t think so. We are used to being in very competitive environments.
In a small country like Sweden with fewer inhabitants than Mumbai, I think there are around 200 newspapers. In my home country Denmark, which has only five million people, we have 40 newspapers.
I think where we stand out is that we are so focussed on our target audience — the young urban audience between the age of 20 and 40. When I look at Indian readership figures for Indian newspapers like the Times of India for example, I’m not scared to death with their readership to
What’s the ideal time to hand out your newspapers to your target audience?
The main time we target our audience is during the morning when they have 15 to 20 minutes to read our newspaper. It’s what we call the “Metro Moment”. This is when people are entering the metro trains or are waiting for the trains on their way to office or university. But it isn’t limited to public transport. In some countries we have tie ups with Starbucks for instance. You buy a cup of tea or coffee and get your newspaper at the same time. We distribute quite often at university campuses, high schools, and waiting rooms at hospitals — everywhere people have 20 minutes they could potentially use in reading the newspaper. But in India, given that our target audience doesn’t really travel by the trains, we won’t be focussing on the public transport system. So the model will focus on distribution at traffic lights or even targeting people when they get out of movie theatres.
Distribution is a big challenge for you…
We have a lot of different ways of distributing the newspaper. In Amsterdam for instance, 90 percent of the papers are distributed in racks in public transport. But in Mexico City, 99 percent are distributed by hand. We actually tried to put guards next to racks in Hungary in some of the very populated areas, making sure people only took one or two of the newspapers. We had a situation where people could make a dollar or two by stealing the newspaper and recycling it. In Chile, we had distributors being knocked down by baseball bats. It was probably initiated by our competitors. We have seen quite a bit already, including fraud and trucks of newspapers being dumped into rivers — all kinds of funny stuff that went on in France for instance when we launched there. Distribution is definitely one of the areas we are most focussed on since it is core to our business model.