'No Choice' Over London Freebie Launch, Says Associated

10 December 2004

Associated Newspapers, publisher of London's sole paid-for midday newspaper, the Evening Standard, confirmed yesterday that it will launch a giveaway version branded ES Lite.

The time, 11.30am; the date, Tuesday 14 December; the places rail stations and other public venues in central London; the format, 48-page tabloid; the reason, to beat rival Express Newspapers to the punch.

The advent of such a venture has been the subject of much speculation for some months - not least because of the Evening Standard's plummeting sales, now at crisis point.

The Standard is unusually frank in explaining its motives: "If we don't do this then someone else will and it will be out of our control," executives told a meeting with distributors yesterday. It is not just the Express group. We have to respond to falling sales. We can't afford not to act - doing nothing is not an option."

The new kid on the block doesn't aim to be innovative: editorial will peddle the tired [but successful] mix of celebrities, lifestyle and fashion .

An initial print run of 50,000 copies will be carefully monitored, with distribution points checked every fifteen minutes. "We expect to get through those first 50,000 copies extremely quickly," vendors were told.

"It may be increased to 100,000 early in the new year, and could go as high as 250,000 in the future. But it has to be off the streets by 2.30pm. That is absolutely crucial."

Paid-for parent, the Evening Standard, admits it is bought by only one Londoner in twenty-five. "The other 24 don't buy [it] and they are the ones we are aiming at. We want to get them back in the habit of buying a paper," said an Associated executive.

Data sourced from MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff