Tuesday, 5 September 2006

The online front in London's freesheet war

http://media.guardian.co.uk/newmedia/story/0,,1865496,00.html

Media Guardian had a piece about the free London papers and looked at their web offerings. They used some of my thoughts:

Beyond the battle to get freesheets into commuters' hands, a digital scrap is shaping up between London Lite and the London Paper, pitting Associated's well-established Thisislondon.co.uk against News International's nascent web presence.

The London Paper's website did not get off to the best start yesterday, failing to launch until some time after the paper hit the streets at 4.30pm. Anyone following plugs for the site from yesterday's print edition was left looking at a holding page.

The paper's website is still running with a beta tag, indicating that it is in a development phase, to cover the readily apparent shortcomings.

That said, News International appears to have ambitious plans for thelondonpaper.com, targeting a younger readership and aiming to build a community with feedback opportunities, services such as dating and linking to the likes of MySpace.

As an unknown quantity for advertisers, the site is also stacked with News Corporation brands such as Sky.

By contrast, Associated has sought to integrate London Lite into its existing internet offering - originally launched in 1997 to support the Evening Standard - using a lightly co-branded homepage.

On the face of it the experience, the depth of content and existing user base of the almost decade-old Thisislondon.co.uk should give it an advantage over News International's rival digital upstart.

Distinctive purple colouring is used on the masthead, online and in the launch advertising campaign for the London Paper and its website. "It feels like there is more of a brand being built around the London Paper beyond being just a free paper, while London Lite to an extent feels tacked on to the top of the Thisislondon masthead," says Nick Burcher, a buying director at Zed Media.

Zed Media's Mr Burcher argued that the London Paper's website must up its game and not rely on simply attracting users who already read the paper.

"My view is that with hundreds of thousands of copies out there of each paper - as well as other such as City AM, Metro and the Evening Standard - there is a big universe to distribute to," he said.

"People will develop a preferred product and it won't just be about the paper product, it will be about the best overall offering."

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