After over 3 years locked in mortal combat, it now looks like the Herald AM and its rival Metro will be combining their operations and forming a new free newspaper imaginatively called the Metro Herald. Considering the initial acrimony between the two papers and their respective shareholders, it just shows how an ‘economic downturn’ will focus the mind and reminds me of that nice expression “the pockets thought the hands were mad”.

The registered vehicle for Metro is a company called Fortune Green. The Irish Times has a 45% interest in that company, Associated have another 45% and Metro International had the remaining 10%. According to the Irish Times – who broke the story – Metro international will ‘exit’ the business, but the new phoenix type newspaper will retain at least some of its heritage. According to the report, the new business shareholding will be one third each for Independent News and Media, The Irish Times and Associated Newspapers.

Whilst the rivalry between Independent and The Irish Times has always been based squarely on Queensberry rules, the relationship between The Independent and Associated is more akin to the rules of the WWF Smackdown. But I suppose in this climate – “needs must”. Metro (International) have nothing reported on their web site relating about this development and, it should be noted, it is not in the nature of the beast to leave a market in this fashion. This merged newspaper should see some cost savings in printing, some in distribution and certainly a few euro in editorial as the AM model was particularly leaner than its Metro opponent.

The average distribution for the last 6 months of 2008 was 71,500 for the Metro and nearly 74,000 for Herald AM giving the ‘free market’ a figure of nearly 145,000 – no returns. The blood on the wall that some have suggested that would happen in the distribution end of the merged vehicle will depend heavily on two decisions: Firstly the print run and secondly the distribution policy. If it’s decided that the distribution will remain at the 145k the combined is now and the market will be the ‘9 to 5’s’, then there is only a limited time opportunity to press the pulp into their hands and that would certainly necessitate a larger crew than either one paper uses currently.

Considering that you can only distribute x per hour then the maths begins at the print run. Alternatively a complete new ‘drop bin’ system could be employed which certainly cull numbers but I would wonder if potential/current advertisers feel that the drop bins are as effective. We will have to see what the new shareholders decide will be the distribution level for the new publication but at last count there is a ready market there for 145,000 – but where are the major savings there?