Swedes launch free daily in Prague subway system

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PRAGUE -- Sweden's Modern Times Group has expanded its free-newspaper concept beyond the Nordic region for the first time with the launch of Metro in Prague in the Czech Republic.

MTG, part of the Kinnevik group, launched the first edition of the daily newspaper in Stockholm at the end of 1994. Kinnevik, which is aiming for a Metro circulation of between 500,000 and one million across seven European cities, is also considering publishing a Latin American edition, but the company would not reveal the cities under consideration. Metro currently distributes 140,000 copies a day in Stockholm and 87,000 in Copenhagen.

Like the Swedish version of Metro, the Czech-language edition is advertising-supported and distributed for free at entrances to the subway system. The Czech transportation authority's advertising representative, Rencar, has minority-ownership in the venture.

Metro's budget is between $1m and $1.6m per year and management predicts the paper will not break even for at least two years. "This is definitely a long-term project" says Director Jan Stocklassa.

The initial print run is 150,000 but Stocklassa predicts it will rise to 200,000 by September. The editorial/advertising split is 50/50 and a full-page color ad sells for about $3,500, with a 25% surcharge for ads on the back cover. Current advertisers include the Swedish furniture chain IKEA, Vision Express, and the Pronto Plus grocery store chain.

Metro contains both international and domestic news - mostly from Czech news agencies - as well as culture, sports and entertainment news. Stocklassa says the paper will add more full-time reporters over time to increase original reporting.

The newspaper faces stiff competition, however, as Prague's daily newspaper market is already glutted, with titles such as Mlada frontadnes, Blesk, Pravo, Telegraf, and Lidove noviny, sold at subway newsstands for between 20 cents and 30 cents.

Michael Klima, publisher of Lidove noviny and president of the association of publishers, says Prague's other daily newspapers don't feel threatened by the launch of Metro because they believe readers will be wary of information provided for free.

Copyright July 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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