London Lite: 'Business as usual' as Standard goes free

Steve Auckland, managing director of Associated Newspaper’s freesheet division, said it will be ‘business as usual’ for the London Lite despite plans for the London Evening Standard to become a rival free newspaper.

Auckland told Press Gazette there was potential for two free newspapers in the London market but Associated, a division of the Daily Mail & General Trust group, would need to see how the revamped Standard affected the London Lite before a decision would be made about its future.

He said: “It is early days; thelondonpaper only closed two weeks ago. Obviously, with the news coming from the London Evening Standard we will have to wait to assess the situation …Our view is that it is business as usual but we will continue to make our assessments, as you would expect us to.”

News that Russian billionaire Alexander Russian will transform his London Evening Standard into a free newspaper in a week’s time broke on Friday leading to intense speculation about the future of Associated Newspapers‘ loss-making London Lite.

Auckland told Press Gazette the Standard’s decision to go free would lead to a market similar to the one which existed when News International‘s thelondonpaper was in existence.

Auckland said it was impossible to make an assessment of how Associated’s free papers would be affected by a free version of the Standard because details of its hours and pattern of distribution were not yet known.

He said maintaining the current editorial quality of the Standard would cost it significant sums of money.

“[The question is] whether you can make a profit out of both of them. We’ll have to make an assessment on that at some stage…there is always the potential for two free papers in the market…but whether they can both make a profit we’ll have to wait and see.”

Auckland said the Standard still had a ‘rolling’ contractual commitment to provide the London Lite with the bulk of its editorial but could not specify if or when that agreement was likely to end.

Lebedev controls 75 per cent of the Standard after buying the title for a nominal sum in January. Its previous owner, Associated Newspapers, still retains a 25 per cent share.

He revealed on Friday that the new free Evening Standard will have a circulation of 600,000. In August, the Standard had an ABC circulation of 235,977 – 50 per cent of which comprised free distribution.

London Lite was set up in 2006 as a rival to thelondonpaper. However, the NI freesheet closed last month with its publishers saying the free evening newspaper sector has ‘fallen short of expectations’.

The London Lite has yet to show a profit and executives claimed earlier this year that it would be another four years before it would make money.

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