Free But Elusive: London’s Suburbs Lose Their Standards:

London’s crowded newspaper market has suddenly become a little less congested. In September, Rupert Murdoch’s News International (which also owns The Times, The Sun, The Sunday Times and Sky Broadcasting, among many others) closed down ‘The London Paper’ The publication had a made a pre-tax loss of £12.9 million in the year up to 29 June 2008 and £16.8 million over the previous ten months even though (or because) it distributed over 500,000 copies around the capital. This was 100,000 more than ‘London Lite,’ which in turn disappeared from the streets after Friday 13th November. The demise of ‘Lite’ was inevitable: It was part of the Daily Mail & General Trust (DMGT) media group,which under the name ‘Associated Newspapers’ also has a 24.9 % stake in ‘The Evening Standard’. The other 75.1% was acquired by Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev  for a nominal sum of £1.0p in January 2009. The Evening Standard became free as from October 12th, so there was clearly no point in continuing with two sister newspapers duplicating virtually the same news items. The only remaining apparent rival, ’Metro’ has an estimated circulation of 1.7 million in London, Glasgow and thirteen other UK cities – but also belongs to Associated Newspapers’ and is anyway is aimed specifically at early morning commuters on the buses, trains and underground network.

Until 1960, Londoners had a choice of three different evening newspapers. None of them were free. First to go was ‘The Star’. Then in 1980, the ‘Evening News’ was merged with the Evening Standard , only to be resuscitated briefly in 1987 in response to the launch by Robert Maxwell (who had also taken over the ‘Daily Mirror)  of the  ‘London Daily News’ , which collapsed  nine months later after suffering an estimated  deficit of £1 million every week. From then until the arrival of the free-sheets, the ‘Evening Standard’ dominated the scene, selling 500,000 copies daily. By this year, circulation had dropped to just 250,000. Drastic action was required for the newspaper to survive According to the Editor, Geordie Greig, their ‘pioneering strategy’ of  removing the cover charge of 50p and more than doubling their distribution to 600,000 offers a “great opportunity for an exciting and secure future”. Managing Director Andrew Mullins believes that their decision “ should transform our commercial fortunes”. However, current and potential advertisers will want to be sure that the newspaper will continue to be easily accessible in all parts of the capital.

At the moment, that doesn’t seem to be the situation. The ‘Evening Standard’ says that readers can “pick up a copy at all main line stations, at all 65 Underground stations in Zone One, at 43 underground stations in other zones , in 225 supermarkets” and that it will be available “in as many neighbourhoods as we can possibly arrange”. Despite these assurances, it seems to have already disappeared from most of London’s local shops and newsagents. A survey by the internet blogger ‘Diamond Geezer’ has concluded that “Some entire areas have no distribution points at all. Bad luck if you are in Brockley, Kentish Town, East Finchley, Chelsea, Highgate, Kilburn, Wandsworth, Cricklewood, large parts of Willesden ,Richmond, Kensal Green and Dulwich. Almost all of south-east London except Lewisham and east London “has become an Evening Standard desert”. Wimbledon “for some reason” has been favoured with “four outlets clustered together” with the result that some enterprising traders in other parts of SW18 now go there to collect bundles of the newspaper and then hand them out to their regular customers.. The ES has provided a free-phone help-line (0800 141 2629) for anyone who can no longer find a copy  at their ”normal location”. Their new ‘hub-and-spoke’ distribution system is fine for anyone living on or near or at the end of  a spoke but not so convenient for those who don’t. “Where’s your nearest outlet?”, asks Diamond Geezer. “ Are you really bothered about setting out on an epic treck just to get a paper? Will this neglect of the suburbs prove costly for the Evening Standard?”

A rather different scenario is depicted by the ES management. In their version, the newspaper will be available “ from Chiswick to |Croydon, from Ealing Broadway to Epsom, from White City to Watford, from Staines to Stratford, from Dagenham to Dulwich, from Hayes to Holloway, and from Walton-on Thames to Wembley”. It will, they promise “remain the same newspaper with the same award-winning journalism”. However, there already seem to be fewer of those familiar orange & white ES vans speeding around the capital . The vendors’ shouts of “Get Your Paper Here” – for generations an integral part of the London scene – can be heard no more.








Filed under: Media | Posted on November 24th, 2009 by Colin D Gordon

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