Schibsted Buys A Third Of Metro Sweden – Tipping Point For Freesheets?

Could this signal the shifting of emphasis from paid to free newspapers? Scandinvian publisher Schibsted is buying 35 percent of freesheet operator Metro International‘s native Swedish editions in a deal that will partner its advertising sales with those of the freebie upstart. The price is 350 million kronor (£30 million), valuing Metro Sweden at £85 million. Release.

The pair will form a joint sales company to sell ads across Metro plus Schibsted’s Aftonbladet paper and its Stockholm title Svenska Dagbladet – a combined audience of 4.2 million. Schibsted Sweden EVP Gunnar Stromblad said the JV is formed “to meet the challenges in the newspaper market today and tomorrow”. In other words, the rise of the modern freesheet, led by Metro, is proving increasingly attractive to advertisers, while paid newspapers have been losing ad revenue to the web.

Schibsted will close its own loss-making Swedish freesheet Punkt SE, which made a £17.5 million 2007 loss, at a cost of £5 million, but expects to make 40 million to 50 million kronor (£4.3 million) in JV revenue after three years.

Metro International publishes in 23 countries and moved its HQ from Luxembourg to London in December, but the UK edition of Metro is published instead by Associated, though the pair jointly operate a Dublin edition. In London freesheets, Metro is joined by News International’s thelondonpaper and Associated’s London Lite. Given Metro International’s JV tenure – and the rate of the migration to freesheets – the Schibsted pattern could be repeated elsewhere.

I will be in Gothenberg, Sweden, to chair a panel at the World Editors Forum on June 3.