City workers give positive reaction to new freesheet

But can a business newspaper handed out to commuters survive in a very competitive market? Saeed Shah reports
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Enter City AM, a free morning title that is handed to workers in the Square Mile and Canary Wharf as they emerge from Tube stations. But consider this: by the end of the year, the 24-page title aims to have a distribution of 100,000 (from the current 60,000) to readers with average earnings of £50,000. That is quite a package to take to advertisers.

According to the team behind the paper, which includes chief executive Jens Torpe, formerly of Metro International, reaction to City AM has been very positive. Its research has shown that 75 per cent of workers in the City or Canary Wharf know about it and about half have tried it. Only 15 per cent dislike it. The paper has only been out for three weeks.

And last week the title even led on a couple of top business scoops: a story about Lord Hollick, former boss of the Daily Express, making a business comeback, and news that a long-running lawsuit relating to Equitable Life, the bust pensions provider, was about to be settled. True, both stories were in at least one other paper, but City AM was ahead of most of the pack.

David Parsley, the ex-Sunday Express business editor who is the editor of City AM, says that given his paper's late deadline (half-past midnight, there is only one edition), it has been assumed that the paper picked up these stories from seeing the first editions of rivals. In fact, he says, it had them first. But, if there are good stories in the first editions of the other papers (which City AM sees before going to press), he is quite happy to exploit his late deadline and follow them up.

The paper, financed largely by a Dutch publishing group, has a launch budget of £10m and aims to break even by the summer of 2007. It has an editorial staff of 27 (including production) and about the same number again work as regular freelancers.

The criticisms of City AM are obvious. That its stories are short, providing little "value added" copy to what is a readership with sophisticated knowledge of the subject area. And what is the point of handing people a paper as they arrive at work?

Torpe says that it a "myth" to say that most workers have already read a paper on the way into work. Research conducted for City AM found that just 13 per cent of those arriving for work in the Square Mile or Canary Wharf had read the FT, Times or Telegraph.

"A lot of newspaper reading takes place when people get to work," he says.

The small size of the stories are a deliberate feature. A consumer can skim over the news pages, picking up the headlines and reading any stories of interest.

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