Saturday, October 3, 2009...9:30 am

Is free the right price for the Evening Standard?

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Much excitement and pontification has greeted the surprise news that the London Evening Standard is going to become a freesheet and double its print run in 10 days’ time. So what the hell, why not add to it…

One thing that has surprised me is that there hasn’t been an immediate announcement that the London Lite will be axed.

It would make sense – I mean, the advertising market couldn’t sustain two evening freebies before, so why should it now? And, let’s face it, empty the market of the freebies and a paid-for evening paper might have a clearer run to profits.

To me it would have made a lot of sense to simply close the London Lite once it had succeeded in its mission to scupper The London Paper – after all, it had been launched as a spoiler, and had no real raison d’être beyond that.

But maybe its slightly complicated ownership arrangement stands in the way. London Lite is owned by Daily Mail & General Trust, which used to own the Standard, before it was largely bought by Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev.

Now DMGT owns a minority stake in the Standard, but has an agreement to get free content from the paper for the London Lite. Which must make for interesting editorial meetings.

It also means that what I imagine had been a simple arrangement in 2006 to spike The London Paper‘s guns in order to protect the Evening Standard has now turned into something a bit more complicated.

London Lite and the Standard could now end up as bitter rivals in the free evening sector. And now media pundits are making noises to suggest that the London Lite even has a real future – soaking up more ad revenue now its rival has been killed.

I find all this very strange, actually. During all of this, the one thing I took for granted was that the London Lite was essentially a worthless piece of wastepaper. Yet here’s Roy Greenslade in the Guardian saying that the paper “is cleverly targeted to achieve a more upscale audience profile”.

He also agrees with an opinion piece by Stephen Glover in the Independent, who said that Rupert Murdoch “should never have launched [The London Paper] in the first place. It was an expensive distraction that contributed little or nothing to good journalism”.

Yes, well. Though I was never that keen on either of them, if I had to read either I’d pick The London Paper. It might have been mainly about shagging, but at least it wasn’t entirely made up of papped celebrities I’d never heard of. And its mix of upfront columnists did make for entertaining reading. (Also, as I noted a while ago, it was the only source I could find for on the spot microblogging of the London mayoral election, which gives it some brownie points from me.)

One telling point is that it underlines the fact that its target audience of youngish London commuters now expect to be able to read a paper for nothing. Which means it’s not that likely they’ll want to pay any money for their news and trashy celeb photos online either. Think about that one Mr Murdoch, as you try to sell us News International’s online content…

2 Comments

  • I long for the day when London will have a daily newspaper worthy of such a fantastic city. The sooner the Standard disappears the better.

  • I am with you Greg. Few can forget the vindictive and malicious hounding of Lee Jasper, but its bleak outlook on London-life is just depressing.

    It is right to pull the London Paper because it just devalues journalism and the quality content in newspapers.

    But I’m not sure that the Standard will survive even as a free product, the phrase ‘they can’t even give it away’ comes to mind when I was on Oxford Street recently.

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