New flavour from Maxwell's House

Alan Garth

Despite his own absence from the AFN conference, Cap'n Bob's men intimated plans for frees in six more major cities. Because of entrenched competition, this may be tougher to pull off than his Glaswegian success. Also cities are complex and fragmented places for a massive-circulation freesheet to serve. But lack of commitment by paid publishers to the frees they now largely control could create the sort of gaps a Maxwell might exploit. The pursuit of 'quality' may in future mean excluding those who don't want a free from the distribution process.

Understanding the innermost thoughts of Captain Bob is a fine art largely confined to those who work for the Mirror Group chief. That he is now taking an interest in free newspaper publishing is clear. But why? The hypotheses are endless.

Those hoping for a clue or two from Robert Maxwell himself at the Birmingham conference of the Association of Free Newspapers were disappointed. For the second time in the ten-year history of the event, he failed to turn up to deliver a promised speech. This did not surprise some of the assembled cognoscenti. On the night before he was due, the few people prepared to take a bet that he would turn up were Mirror Group delegates - a loyalty which cost them the odd fiver the following morning.