The free Evening Standard: Worth 50p, so why won't they take my money?

I’m confused. Up until today I was – fairly happily – giving the Evening Standard 50p a day in exchange for the hard work of its journalists.

I thought it pretty good value.

Now Evening Standard managing director Andrew Mullins tells me he can take the paper free, cutting enough from the paid-for distribution and marketing costs to more than make up for the loss of all the money me and 100,000 other customers were giving him every day. And he says it will still be a ‘quality’ editorial product – rather than a lightweight digest of agency reports.

I just picked up my first copy of the new free Evening Standard, and he’s right so far about the quality.

It is 68 pages of beefy editorial which is going to take considerably longer to read than it took me to flick through London Lite and thelondonpaper. Whereas the combined two frees might have taken me to Clapham Junction, the free Evening Standard looks set to keep me entertained and informed all the way to Surbiton.

The in-depth report by Stephen Robinson on ‘Fear and loathing inside the BBC’ looks worth 50p on its own. But hey, ho if you don’t want my money, you don’t want it Mr Lebedev.

By more than doubling its circulation to 600,000, Mullins believes the paper will be delivering a unique ABC1 London audience which no other medium will be able to come close to.

Whether it succeeds financially will in large part depend on how Associated Newspapers reacts.

It could keep London Lite as a more downmarket title aimed at London’s more youthful readers and keep its circulation at 400,000 – leaving the Standard to go after those looking for a more cerebral read.

It could throw in the towel and draw solace from the fact that it still owns 25 per cent of the Standard so at least has a stake in its possible future success.

Or we could have the London Free Newspaper War Two – with the London Lite ditched in favour of a new premium free brand which would go head to head with the Standard until Lebedev runs out of dosh – thereby keeping Lord Rothermere’s extremely hard-earned place in the London media market.

You would think Lebedev might take the pragmatic approach and find some accommodation with Associated, perhaps merging it with Lite.

But then again, you don’t get to be a billionaire oligarch by reaching cosy accommodations with rivals – you get there my smiting them from the face of the Earth. He bought the Evening Standard because it looked like an interesting thing to do, and what could be more fun for a backer of liberal journalism than to go to war with the owner of the Daily Mail.

Things could be about to get very interesting.

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