There was more bad news this month for the beleagured Metro International S.A., which is a partner in the Vancouver Metro Vancouver commuter paper. Read the masthead of the local freebie, and you'll see that Metro is billed as "the world's largest newspaper, with more than 18.5 million readers in 100 major cities in 21 countries".
What the masthead neglects to mention is that it is also part of one of the biggest money-losing publishing companies in the world. On October 22, Metro International announced a group operating loss of US$18.2 million in the third quarter of this year. That's significantly higher than the US$8.9 million loss in all of 2006, excluding divestments.
In other words, Metro International has managed to lose more than twice as much in this past quarter as it managed to lose all of last year (discounting the effects of the falling U.S. dollar).
Metro International's US$18.2 million loss came on sales of US$91.5 million. This means that for every $5 in sales, the company posts a loss of almost $1. This has occurred despite Metro's efforts to woo advertisers by selling its front covers.
It makes one wonder about the future of free commuter papers. Two-and-a-half years ago, three of these publications appeared on the streets of Vancouver.
Dose , created by CanWest Media Works, stopped publishing papers last year. More recently, local billionaire Jim Pattison dumped his 50-percent stake in a different commuter paper, 24 hours , which he created along with Quebecor Inc. in 2005. Pattison isn't known for selling profitable businesses, so it's safe to assume that 24 hours is still recording significant losses.
But it's the financial woes of Metro International, the world's biggest publisher of commuter papers, that raises questions about this nascent industry's future. Maybe people want a little more fibre with their newspapers, and they're not quite as celebrity-obsessed as the media mandarins might think. Gee, wouldn't that be a refreshing thought?