The Metro newspaper, which accompanies millions of commuters across the UK as they make their way to work, is 10 years old on Monday. Part of its success is down to its unique readership. Who are they?
By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine
When a certain newspaper man, Jonathan Harmsworth, boarded a tram in Stockholm in 1998, he noticed dozens of young, affluent Swedes engrossed in a newspaper called Metro.
What impressed him was the way a social group traditionally resistant to buying newspapers was so wedded to one that was freely distributed.
He took his thoughts back to Associated Newspapers in London, where he began to develop ideas for launching a UK version. And on becoming the 4th Viscount Rothermere and chairman of the group later that year, Metro UK moved a step closer.
Ten years after first hitting the streets of London on 16 March 1999, Metro is now in 30 cities and towns across Britain and Ireland.
An estimated 3.3m people a day spend an average of 27 minutes on their way to work reading bite-sized chunks of news, culture, local leisure reviews and sport, with a healthy sprinkling of technology and quirky stories. Unlike its sister paper, the Daily Mail, it attempts to adopt a neutral tone, eschewing opinion or analysis.
It has been argued that Metro has created an entirely new readership of newspapers and not just in terms of its youth. For a start, they don't tend to buy other newspapers during the week, although they might pick up another freebie on their way home.
They have the ear of Gordon Brown, who says he particularly reads the letters page to keep his finger on the pulse and has urged the Cabinet to do the same.
And they have a name. Although the term "urbanite" was first documented in the 19th Century as simply one who lives in a city, in recent years it has come to mean - in media circles - one who is young, affluent, ambitious, brand-conscious and culturally aware.
In the 1980s, the "yuppie" phenomenon attracted derision. The young urban professionals were viewed as hedonistic materialists with more concern for their Filofaxes and loft apartments than their fellow citizens. But who are the yuppies' 21st Century successors? And should they be celebrated or scorned?
Did she learn how to do that in Metro?
"We used the term 'urbanite' to describe our readers - between the ages of 18 and 44, in the ABC1 bracket, white-collar workers," says Steve Auckland, managing director of Associated Newspapers' free newspapers division.
"It's a demographic which has been on the rise in the last 10 years, these young affluent workers who really like to live in the city and enjoy the city. We came up with the term first and it's been used primarily by advertising agencies and clients."
Each year Metro recruits 4,000 readers to a panel and conducts seven major surveys with them, plus mini-polls, to find out in detail about their attitudes, opinions and lifestyles.
According to this research, called Urban Life, these people are "young and cool", "cash-rich and time-poor" and "love city-dwelling". They are also sensitive to trends, love their brands and are media-literate.
"They are low watchers of television," says Mr Auckland. "They might watch some digital channels but they are often out and about doing things, at health clubs, eating out or at the cinema. So they're difficult for papers to reach. They don't listen to radio or read a lot of newspapers so it's a market that advertisers can't get to."
They pick Metro rather than a paid-for newspaper because of convenience.
BEING AN URBANITE MEANS...
Average salary: £38,000 (London), £24,000 (elsewhere)
Average time in current job: Two years
Common industries: IT, finance, accountancy, education, insurance
Wardrobe: One fifth is designer
Fashion spend: £55 a week
Favourite mobile: Nokia
Exercise: More than half do so at least once a week
Cinema: 25% go once a week
MP3 player: 73% have one
Source: Urban Life
"And they like that we just give the facts. That's the younger generation, they don't like to be told what to think, they like to be informed and then make up their own minds. Metro is like the web on newsprint."
Metro's rise has been aided by an increased number of commuters, says Max Nathan, a researcher at Centre for Studies. Growth in service industries since the early 80s has drawn a young and educated workforce to the city centres.
"The reason why Manchester had its congestion charge referendum last year was because commuting had got pretty bad by Manchester standards. And in Leeds too, there is a strain on the core periphery transport infrastructure. It's a captive market for Metro - people have more time to read the paper on the train."
But Metro's definition of "urbanite" is not accurate, says Matthew Gandy, director of the Urban Laboratory at University College London.
"The term 'urbanite' used in relation to an 18 to 40 affluent readership on their way to work is only a narrow section of urban society. If you are talking about urban citizens in a broader context then more categories of people should be included as active citizens."
All Bar One drinkers
Urbanites evolved from yuppies in the 1980s, way before Metro was conceived, says social commentator Peter York.
The yuppies, he says, despite the Loadsamoney parody, were actually quite a small group of highly educated professionals.
The term used to have a simple meaning
"From the 80s, there was this idea that a large, more real group of human beings was taking on some of that [yuppie] identity. The Metro group is larger and includes what used to be called clerical workers and all sorts of intermediates.
"It's a group that is making it up as it goes along. It's not part of the traditional industrial base and not quite the same as the clerks who lived in Metroland and were deferential and respectful."
Unlike yuppie, urbanite is a label that people would probably be proud of, but it has a bland flavour, he says.
They drink in All Bar One and just want to live a good life and enjoy themselves, says Mr York. They glory in making the most of the city they live in.
But - as reading Metro implies - they don't have political convictions.
"It gives very useful stuff and consumption stuff but doesn't give you personality and doesn't give you politics because it assumes you don't really want it. The implicit assumption is that they are floating voters."
And he thinks the increase in availability of free stuff is damaging. In the same way that getting music for nothing has devalued it, he says, people don't think enough about the quality of information that comes for free.
Metro readers are part of a generation that is killing paid-for newspapers because they prefer to get news from a free paper or from the web, even though a blogger doesn't have the authority of someone who is from a newspaper like the Times, says Mr York.
And he can see clouds on the horizon for those overseeing Metro's hitherto unchecked growth. Heavy job losses among the banking sector's support staff could potentially affect the paper's core readership.
So if Gordon Brown is really using Metro as a barometer for public opinion, he will be acutely aware of the troubles ahead.
Below is a selection of your comments.
Of course I read the Metro when I get a chance, however I'm nowhere near the description of an "urbanite". I used to work in a low-pay call centre in Dublin and read my paper every morning. No designer clothes or budget for fashion I'm afraid! It feels as if everybody is being classified and put into some sort of groups nowadays - metrosexuals, nerds, snobs and urbanites - whatever next?It is true that everyone reads the paper when sitting on the train dead bored, including children and elderly.
Stanzy, Ipswich UK
The Metro is nothing more than a Daily Mail lite. Have to agree with the 'yesterday's news today' slogan and could someone PLEASE do something about the ink being left all over hands each time one's picked up? Three shirts being covered in fingerprints within a week and nowadays I just take a good book!
As an infrequent visitor to London I've seen the Metro and was reasonably impressed. London based friends and relatives like it for it's lack of sensationalism, simple and easy to read format and the fact it costs NOTHING. I cannot see why anyone would pay for a newspaper when the Metro is available. Combine the Metro with the plethora of news websites and you have a recipe for destruction for the Old Media newspapers. I can see a time in the next five years where paid-for newspapers become a very niche market catering to a minority. It's the result of technological evolution and those newspapers that don't embrace the new media world will die.
Mike, Epworth, UK
One of the reasons for the Metro's continuing success is that they have never underestimated the intelligence of their readers. This is particularly evident, to me, at least, in their rich and varied arts coverage, which never shirks difficult, or apparently niche subjects. Another reason is that they have gone out of their way to recruit good, and witty, writers, such as their TV, restaurant, and cinema reviewers. Actually, a lot of the red tops and broadsheets could learn from them! There are times when I would have been willing to pay for the quality writing in the Metro - it's been that good.
Paul Richards, London
I totally agree with John De Silva. I read the Metro because it is strewn all over the train I catch each morning. If I find someone has left a copy of the Times/Guardian/Independent I will read that instead. I don't buy papers because you can get the useful content from webpages. When I was "between jobs" and doing some casual work on a building site I read The Sun because people working there left it lying around. If the 'average' metro reader earns £24k year, is it a surprise that they don't spend the average 90p a day on a paper of their choice?
Alex, Birmingham, UK
"even though a blogger doesn't have the authority of someone who is from the Times" perhaps if the Times was as well informed, authoritative, unbiased and well written as some of the blogs I subscribe to then I would consider buying it. (Then again Metro is free so I still probably wouldn't buy the Times).
I meet all match all those "Being an urbanite means..."criteria above, and yet I absolutely will not read either Metro or London Lite. The reason? Look round the tube/train stations; they're covered in chucked-away free newspapers, a littering and environmental mess. Why not save at least a tree per year each by refusing these papers when they're offered?!
I read my Metro every morning on the way to work but what really makes me happy is that fact that well over half the kids going to school on the train also read it.
Jon Baker, Rickmansworth, UK
The Metro should carry the banner "Yesterdays News Today!"
Max, Birmingham, England
Like many, I read the Metro most mornings whilst commuting and I disagree that it devalues information. Whilst, I admit, I do expect my basic news to be free (BBC website...) I don't expect good analysis to come free, and that's what I expect of papers that I pay for. I appreciate the Metro's "objectivity" and the fact that it does not (usually) cast judgement. When I buy a paper, which I do sometimes, I want the opposite: good, thorough, well-informed analysis from people I trust. Not the mindless, near-illiterate drivel peddled by a great deal of the mainstream press. That information cannot be devalued any further.
Peter, Dundee, Scotland
'People don't think enough about the quality of information that comes for free' Frankly I value the unbiased information in the Metro significantly HIGHER than that in many of the other paid-for newspapers (especially the tabloids).
Chris H, Leeds, UK
I disagree, everybody who catches the tube in the morning reads the metro simply because its there. Simple as that. Why do people have to write an article about such things.
John De Silva, London
I disagree that the Metro is balanced. The sensationalism and clearly politically motivated headlines make me think this paper is just the Daily Mail in disguise! Just take a brief look at the front pages of the Metro over the years; an attacking, combative stance is often taken, unhelpful to the reporting of often controversial and two-sided issue. The way in which the paper is written certainly guides the reader to a certain point of view. However, I do read it. My train is always late and I like the horoscopes.
Abigail Hill, London, UK
What tosh, inferring that 'Urbanites' are not political because they read a 'free rag'! It is far more likely that these individuals wish to review their politics and keep it relevant. Which, given the current climate, is probably a good idea.
Rich Arnold, Bristol, UK
I would consider myself to fall within the Metro's "urbanite" category, even though I don't read it often. Speaking for myself, I like the point about not wanting to be told what to think. I wholeheartedly agree with this, and generally avoid overtly political editorials. I also agree that the Metro is helping to kill paid-for newspapers, but I see this as a good thing - sort of a market correction. As information has vastly multiplied in quantity, of course its value will go down - it's simple economics. Paid-for newspapers sell information at its old price, back from those bygone days when it was a rare and valuable thing; these days it's very much a commodity. The comment about bloggers having less authority than Times reporters has some validity, but not much - what defines a newspaper reporter's authority is (or ought to be) what they've done and said in the past. The same goes for bloggers, only it's more transparent, and more individualistic.
Duncan Armstrong, London, UK