Free paper threatens Italy's print media

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ROME - Metro, the latest free subway newspaper started by Modern Times Group, is expected to affect print advertising in the Italian capital and could force traditional newspapers to cut their cover prices.

Distributed at stations along Rome's two subways lines and at major bus stops, Metro -- which started distribution in July -- has already attracted a readership of around 70,000, five times per week, says Director Fabrizio Paladini.

The newspaper covers local and some international news in Italian, with a special two-page section in English aimed at Rome's huge tourist population.

Metro's weekly circulation of around 350,000 copies makes it the most widely distributed newspaper in Rome, albeit against rivals that charge between $0.59 and $1.46 per issue. Metro is distributed free of charge with ad sales covering costs.

Rome ad industry insiders say the newspaper already is starting to turn heads in some sectors. "It's an ideal vehicle for reaching tourists and the large part of Rome's permanent population that relies on mass transit," says one executive, who asked not to be identified.

Mr. Paladini says the company is using its Rome base to study the possibility of expanding to Milan, Italy's second-largest city.

Metro enters the Italian media market during difficult times. Three Italian newspapers have already closed operations so this year, including the 76-year-old daily L'Unita, which printed its last issue July 28. Readership of Italian newspapers has been dropping about 3% a year since the mid-1990s.

Rome is the 20th city in the world to host a Modern Times Group free subway newspaper. The company, controlled by Swedish investors, is based in London.

Copyright August 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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