The growth of ‘metrocentricity’

As you’ll already know, Time Out went free last week, with hundreds of thousands of copies of a slimmed-down, listings-free magazine being handed out to commuters at tube and train stations.

I wrote a short piece here on the place that Time Out held in the lives of people who went out in London in the ’80s and ’90s, but there’s a more general publishing point.

Here in London we’ve a raft of successful new print products, all of them free – Stylist, Shortlist, Sport, Metro, City AM, the Evening Standard – and all predicated on the same model: getting them picked up at or near travel points by commuters desperate for 20 minutes of diversion.

These have been hailed by brighter minds than mine as (one of) the futures of publishing, but I’m not so sure, and for two reasons.

The first is saturation. What happens when every day of the week has its own free magazine? It can be argued that Metro and City AM manage to coexist successfully, each catering for a different demographic, but the broader the reach one wants one’s title to have, the more it’s a zero sum game. Remember the circulation war when two free and one paid newspaper each tried to win commuters in the evenings? So what happens if another title aimed at young women wants to have a crack at Stylist’s market?

The other point is that this is mainly a London phenomenon. Yes, Shortlist/Stylist is available in around a dozen cities, but the concentration of readers in the capital – more, the concentration around the travel hubs – means that it becomes difficult to get sufficient copies into sufficient hands in any but a handful of UK cities (that’s what I mean by ‘metrocentricity’), and that gets you back to the saturation problem.

There has been a definite first-mover advantage to the new free products; whether there is anything but a dead-end to being second or later remains to be seen.


Ratcheting up the excitement

Those of you still drawing breath after the rollercoaster ride that was my blog post on VAT on digital products might have to lie down as I’ve just written several hundred words on post-War planning for London. You’ll find the full post on one of my other blogs here.

The Abercrombie plans were an attempt to solve the problems of overcrowding, traffic and the noise and dirt of having industrial centres in the middle of residential areas in one fell swoop. Visionary, radical and almost certainly impractical, the Plan did, on one hand, stress the importance of the Green Belt and green space generally for London, and on the other hand, ultimately resulted in Harlow, Stevenage, Basildon and the other 1950s ‘New Towns’.

I am working on a blog post on ‘content’ and marketing, honest, but when you have things like VAT and plans for Ring Roads demanding attention, sometimes you have to prioritise.