Standard goes free: 'We've gone from no chance, to a very good chance'

As the Evening Standard today ramps up its daily circulation to 600,000 and goes free, managing director Andrew Mullins has told Press Gazette that the paper now has a target to break even within three years.

And he insisted that there will be no reduction in the paper’s quality to cater for a much bigger audience than it has had in recent years

Up until last week the Standard had a paid-for circulation of around 100,000 a day – with around as many copies again given away – giving it turnover from circulation income of around £12.5m a year.

Defending the new free business model for the paper, Mullins said that cost-savings from going completely free would cancel out the lost circulation income straight away.

He said: “The cost of losing circulation revenue will be covered by the savings. There is a £5m saving on marketing alone overnight.

“So it is all about growing revenue. And we are in a much better place to grow revenue than if we had a paid-for model.

“The Standard probably had little chance before and a very good chance now. The Standard now will probably have a much stronger and more stable audience than any other quality newspaper.”

Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev bought the Evening Standard from Associated Newspapers for a nominal fee in January.

Associated retained a 25 per cent state in the title and continues to publish its own free daily newspaper, London Lite, which was launched three years ago in response to News International‘s free daily thelondonpaper.

Thelondonpaper closed three weeks ago leaving London Lite, briefly, as the only free evening paper in London.

For the present, the Evening Standard still has an ongoing agreement to sell editorial content to London Lite.

Mullins said he expected that Associated Newspapers executives would have been shocked to learn ten days ago that the Standard was planning to go free.

He said: “We will sit and watch and see what happens. It could be that there is a very aggressive response from them and we will have to deal with that.”

Whereas both thelondonpaper and London Lite targeted younger readers with content focused on gossip, celebrities and entertainment – Mullins insists that the Standard will continue to aim its content at more up-market readers.

He said: “There are more than three million urban prosperous people in London who perhaps own their own home and live and work in zones one to three. We were selling 100,000 to 140,000 a copies a day to them.”

Mullins claims that from today the the Standard will be delivering the biggest ABC1, 24-44-year-old, audience in the UK – out of a total readership of around two million.

He said: “Advertisers buying from five or six newspapers as well as TV and radio will be able to get the same audience from the Evening Standard every single day.

“The Telegraph, Times, Guardian and Independent have all got tiny numbers in London.”

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