Desmond declares war on Associated's London titles

Desmond has Associated’s Evening Standard and Metro in his sights

London’s busiest streets will get livelier next spring when distribution wars begin as Richard Desmond launches a free evening paper to take on the Evening Standard and Metro.

Associated Newspapers’ titles are already on red alert – looking at plans formulated when threats have arisen to its papers in the past.

A source close to the company said: "Associated relishes competition and, as other publishers have discovered, there is no free entry into the London newspaper market. Rest assured, Associated will do everything to support its titles and will certainly not make the mistake of underestimating any new rival."

Counter plans could include a revival – yet again – of the old Evening News or the launch of an afternoon edition of free commuter tabloid Metro. Associated will be determined to kill off Desmond’s new paper, which is provisionally – and provokingly – titled Evening Mail.

Northern & Shell, Desmond’s company, will distribute his second launch in six months through his existing road network "to points in London where there is heavy traffic", said a spokesman. "It may well be that they are close to tube stations and places like that, to street sellers and some newsagents." It was not yet clear how newsagents would be paid.

But what is obvious is that Associated has tied up tube stations and railway stations with contracts for the distribution of Metro – hence a possible revival of newspaper wars on the streets.

There is certainly enthusiasm for a new paper from advertisers who have been dealing with a monopoly situation, claims N&S. Plans for the evening paper have been on the stocks since the summer. It will be a 48-pager, designed by an in-house team and will cost between £3m and £5m to launch. The print run is expected to be a quarter of a million. Two dummies have already been produced.

"Mr Desmond has already got quite a lot of journalistic staff," said his spokesman. "If he needs extra he will hire them. There are plans for a very extensive network in London — a mixture of staff and freelances.

"It will have the Evening Standard and Metro firmly in its sights. Richard believes there is a gap in the market."

In a company statement, N&S announced last week it would "shortly appoint a commercial director to oversee the project" and expects it "to be someone with experience of a newspaper in the Metro mould".

"Mr Desmond feels London is a great and diverse city which has suffered for too long from having a single, monopoly supplier of its own newspapers.

 

"He is shocked to see the declining circulation and appeal of a once-fine newspaper like the Standard and believes this reflects the fact that Londoners no longer feel their views, hopes and aspirations are properly represented on its pages."

An editor will be drawn from within Desmond’s existing staff and he is thought to be planning a team of 30.

N&S is currently in acrimonious talks with the NUJ about moving sub-editors to Preston. Whether the new paper will be subbed there is subject to the outcome of that consultation.

Insiders say there has been quite a lot of research, heavily backing up the belief that there is an appetite for something slightly different in terms of an evening paper for the capital.

"It will be very much London-based, about issues which involve and affect Londoners like any local paper. It will probably be more addressed at the people, with a heart in London that will beat more outside Westminster and the City and the West End." There are no plans to take it outside London.

 

By Jean Morgan

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