The London Evening Standard would have disappeared in a year had it not switched to a free distribution model, its editor Geordie Greig said today.
Greig told the Society of Editors conference that it had become an economic necessity to shift the 182-year-old Standard from its traditional paid-for model.
He said: “If we had kept going with the old distribution model there would be no way the paper would be here in a year’s time. It was a matter of survival. We came up with a plan to survive and thrive.”
The historic conversion last month of the Standard from a paid-for with a cover price of 50p into a “quality free” title led to the paper’s distribution almost tripling to around 600,000 copies each weekday, he said.
Greig told delegates at the conference, in Stansted, Essex, the Standard had completely transformed it economic model, reducing the cost of supplying the paper to readers from around 30p per copy to around four pence.
He said: “The basic cost, the money changing hands to newsagents, has gone from 12 pence to us now having 100 plus newsagents who are paying us one or two pence a copy to have it.
“The demand is our problem, never has it been more in demand.”
As an example of the paper’s popularity Greig said the free Standard now distributed around 10,200 copies each weekday at Holborn station in Central London.
As a paid-for the Standard sold around 700 copies each day in the same location, he said.
Greig said the Standard had been forced to face the reality that over the last nine years its paid-for circulation had dropped on average ten per cent each year.
He said: “We were in a very competitive market with two free papers in the afternoon and one from, the Metro, in the morning.
“We decided that the only way forward economically and to restore the Standard to the glory of having a powerful edition in London was to also go free.
“We almost tripled the circulation and it became an incredibly powerful economic tool for advertisers, yield has gone up exponentially and advertisers have seen quality product.”
Rupert Murdoch last week claimed that he could de-list his newspaper websites – including the Times and The Sun – from Google’s search index as a way to prevent it “stealing stories”.
Greig told delegates the Standard would not consider delisting its website from Google as the move was too confrontational to the search engine and to the paper’s online readership.
He called for greater innovation in the newspaper industry, saying that most people under the age of 28 did not purchase newspapers but the Standard had innovated to a new model that now forced people into the habit of picking up the paper.
He said other newspaper groups had to face up to a current economic model that was not working and innovate to attract readers.
He said: “The Guardian loses around £100,000 every day. Last year, the Times and the Sunday Times lost £53m, The Telegraph lost about £14m, and we lost money.
“We have got to find a new way forward. It’s no good people sitting back and saying ‘people love newspapers’. Yes, but they do but they are not buying them.”