Many of those who write about the regulation of media (myself included) get very excited about questions of access, particularly in relation to new media, with things like positioning on an electronic programming guide (EPG) or the ongoing net neutrality debate getting lots of coverage, at least in academic circles to begin with. I’m reminded by a story on the Press Gazette’s website, though, that physical ‘access’ questions are still very important as a matter of the media industries. Indeed, this particular version of the question is a relatively new one, and it’s quite nice that new topics like this continue to pop up.
The article in question is about the Evening Standard, which is in the process of switching from cover price to free distribution, reaching what is referred to as a short-term deal for the use of the ‘bins’ in London railway stations (mainline stations like Waterloo, Euston and Liverpool Street, not Tube). These familiar structures are used for the Metro newspaper in the mornings, and will now contain free Standards (instead of the much-missed London Paper) in the evening. They’re apparently owned by Network Rail (which operates these stations) and have been the subject of a tendering process in the past, according to this 2006 Guardian article (written in the olden times before the now-abandoned thelondonpaper hit the streets). As far as I know, the Evening Standard has an existing separate deal for paper-sellers setting up inside Network Rail-owned stations, but presumably the bins are important as as part of the new model, they can simply stack piles of papers there and allow them to be picked up by customers as they pass through the stations.
There’s a lot of law here, too; one of the most interesting ECJ decisions is about a newspaper distribution network (Bronner v Mediaprint, which I have cited on a number of occasions, though there’s a lot more work that could be done on that topic), and the London bins (which were first the subject of an exclusive agreement with Associated Newspapers, who ran and run the Metro paper in London) have been the subject of an OFT investigation between 2003 and 2006 (see here). Indeed, the resolution of the OFT involvement was to allow others to bid for the ‘afternoon’ slot. I’d rather see a range of newspapers available from the bins, especially as the bins are in many cases provided under the auspices of public bodies (Transport for London) or quasi-public bodies (Network Rail). I appreciate that the distribution deals are useful revenue-generators, but there are plenty of opportunities in railway stations to monetise the eyeballs (or insert your own favourite marketing prhase), and there may well be a way to raise useful revenue while also facilitating a range of newspapers. That is, if the free newspapers survive! The other dimension, of course, is that the Standard is no longer owned by the same company that owns the London version of Metro; if it was, we’d probably be back to square one. Associated Newspapers continue to publish London Lite (without access to the station facilities), so there are interesting times ahead.