Lebedev launches non-free version of Metro, Guardian eyes Auto Trader sale

You have to hand it to former KGB man Alxander Lebedev, the newish owner of the Independent and London Evening Standard, as he seems determined to show that there’s life in newspapers yet.

Now he’s launching what amounts to a shorter, more concise spin-off of the Indy called ‘i’ which looks like an attempt to compete with Associated Newspaper’s successful and profitable free paper Metro, distributed on London Underground. i will cost 20p for around 20 pages compared to the Indy’s £1 for a few more.

Considering that Associated is Lebedev’s landlord and still owns a stake in the Standard this seems a brave move. But those KGB types fear nothing.

Meanwhile Guardian Media Group is beginning the process of putting Trader Media Group up for sale. TMG publishes Auto Trader, a freesheet selling used cars which has managed to make the transition to being an online product remarkably successfully. Online accounts for about £140m of its £250m revenues.

The Guardian paid £600m for TMG a few years ago and then sold 49.9 per cent of it to private equity outfit Apax for around £500m. This money has been keeping the Guardian afloat through the recession and even before.

The paper is reported to value TMG at around £1.3bn now, which looks decidedly toppy. If the Guardian’s need for further cash is as great as many pundits think, including some of its own journalists, it may have to settle for a little less.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.