World War Free

It's the 'News,' the 'Post,' and Some Swedish Guys in the First Skirmish of a Global Journalism Battle

In London, publishers tried a preemptive strike against Metro by launching their own freebies and price cuts. Asked if the Daily News Express was a similar move, Goodstein somewhat confirmed it, saying, "Whatever new endeavor you do, you want to be first." In a September 11 New York Times story about the debut of the Daily News Express, Goodstein acknowledged that the threat from the Swedes prompted his company to act. But the Times story neglected to point out its own company's attempt to keep the Swedes out of Philly's subways.

Papers in Toronto tried to preempt the Swedes earlier this year, and the newspaper war there is literally ablaze—so many freebies are winding up in the Toronto subway tunnels that traffic-crippling fires have broken out.

It's no comfort to New York's other publishers that Metro's North American operations are headquartered in Manhattan. But the Swedes' point man, Floyd Weintraub, is playing it close to the vest—while keeping an eye on the dustup between the News and Post.

"We're watching it," said Weintraub, Metro's North American vice president."We're sometimes amazed, but we're never surprised."

So when's the launch date for a New York City version of Metro? The Swedes have been known to blitz a city, without warning, with 200,000 copies of a new free paper. "We really don't want to speculate," said Weintraub. "There's no benefit to us to speculate."

For now, he noted, Metro has 6 million readers in 11 countries. What they get, he said, is a "very conservative" approach. "We're nonpartisan: We give a summary of the news," he added. "We're very conservative. Just the facts. Like the all-news radio stations."

The Swedes change the way newspapers are produced wherever they go. And they're going.

"We'll continue to expand," promised Weintraub. "But when we are ready to do it, we do it."

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