Doyen of the US press establishment, the New York Times Company, is entering the hurly-burly of the free newspaper market with its purchase of a 49% stake in Metro Boston, a free daily aimed at young commuters.

The target readership, adults in their 20s and 30s, is a difficult audience to engage and the company is hoping its $16.5 million (€12.2m, £8.6m) investment will help supplement the earnings of its paid-for stablemate in the city, the Boston Globe.

Metro Boston claims a readership of around 300,000. It is owned by European-based Metro International,which publishes four other free titles in North America.

The partnership hopes to attract new readers and advertisers, as well as offer opportunities for cross-promotion. Says Janet Robinson, president/ceo of the New York Times Company: "This adds to our media reach in New England. The Globe feels they are in a position to work well with the Metro and look at a new audience."

The company is following other major publishers into the free arena, including the Washington Post's Express and the Chicago Tribune's RedEye. Both claim encouraging results in terms of increased advertising revenues.

Circulations of paid-for newspapers have slipped in the past ten years in favour of their free counterparts, particularly in Europe.

Says Douglas Arthur, a publishing analyst at Morgan Stanley: "The traditional daily newspapers are trying to respond to this new genre by introducing their own products."

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff