Newspaper moguls Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere are going head to head in a free newspaper fight, which media analysts believe could fatally damage the paid-for Evening Standard.
Associated Newspapers is bidding to save the Evening Standard from the threat posed by News International’s thelondonpaper by launching its own free afternoon title called London Lite.
Both are to have a distribution of up to 400,000 and will launch next month.
Evening Standard bosses are understood to have been in crisis talks since early July — when news first reached them that News International was planning to launch a free title — with special projects chief Martin Clarke seen as chief troubleshooter.
According to a source at Associated, London Lite is to have its own editorial team, and will be a “separate entity” to the extent that “if it uses resources from the Standard, it will have to pay for them”.
Associated bosses are also planning a price rise for the Standard to 50p, which would help them build up a war chest to take on NI, and also provide extra market differentiation between the Standard and London Lite.
Standard executives are briefing that the launch of London Lite is not a kneejerk response to NI’s thelondonpaper, but part of a long-term strategy. But this is being given short shrift by some expert onlookers.
Media analyst Paul Gooden, from ABN Amro, said he believed it was untenable to have two free afternoon papers in London, as well as the Standard.
He said: “I suspect what will happen is you’ll see people migrate away from the paid-for Evening Standard towards the two free versions, so it looks like a difficult situation for Associated. If you look over to the US, they don’t have paid-for evening papers — they’re all free, so I suspect we’re going down a similar route.” Another media analyst, who asked not to be named, said: “There’s no way Murdoch coming into your market is anything that any newspaper proprietor wants to see. In terms of whether [the Standard] survives — let’s face it, they’ve already been carrying high costs for a long time.
“The biggest risk is what it does to the paid-for Evening Standard, given the timing [of distribution] of thelondonpaper, and I would say it has to be a negative. The Evening Standard does not make money. It’s bad news for Associated. Their response is slightly forced upon them.” London Lite is described as a “new free London paper” which will be available throughout central London every weekday afternoon from midday, with a circulation of 350,000 to 400,000.
It will be handed out in Transport for London zone one through a mix of the Standard’s existing vendors and distribution staff.
The free scaled down lunchtime edition of the Standard — Standard Lite — is to be scrapped following the launch of London Lite. Standard Lite launched in December 2004 and has a distribution of 80,000 handed out at lunchtimes in central London.
Standard editor Veronica Wadley said: “We intend to build on the Evening Standard’s great reputation for news and quality journalism. The paper has the highest number of AB readers of any newspaper in London, and the largest circulation of any national paper in the capital with the exception of the Daily Mail. If you want to know what’s going on in London, you must buy the Evening Standard.” The Standard is also to relaunch its website, This is London, to “provide the capital with the most up-to-date entertainment information and news”.
News International confirmed on 1 August that it is to launch thelondonpaper — with a total staff of 70 and edited by Stefano Hatfield. NI said that some 700 distributors are to hand out the paper in central London and Canary Wharf between 4.30pm and 7.30pm.
A number of key editorial appointments have been announced for the NI title. The latest addition is Stuart McGurk, who is joining from The Times as film and TV editor.
Thelondonpaper’s offices were described by one insider as “manic” in the run-up to next month’s launch. And staff from the paper have approached recent journalism graduates in London to offer them unpaid writing work producing film, theatre, TV, music, book, exhibitions, bar and club reviews.
Those who have seen a dummy of thelondonpaper have described it as colourful and more like a magazine than a newspaper, with a youthful approach. It is also to have a website — thelondonsite.com