The London Evening Standard was distributed for free for the first time officially yesterday. Today, instead of walking past the usual Evening Standard newspaper stand, I walked past a man handing them out for free. Whereas I would normally be somewhat annoyed for being harrassed by the distributors of the free cheapsheets, I was inclined to accept the offer. The first thought that came to mind was the number of Evening Standard street vendors that would be made redundant (although reports note that the Evening Standard denied there would be any immediate redundancies – the key word being ‘immediate’). The second thought was about the amount of waste that results when things are offered for free.
Thelondonpaper was introduced in 2006 by News International as an afternoon free sheet to rival the Evening Standard, Associated Newspaper’s afternoon stalwart. Associated Newspaper responded with the Standard Lite later renamed London Lite, a trimmed down version both in number of pages and quality of the news reporting. For three years, Londoners were accosted regularly by free sheet distributors on every street corner, outside every tube station entrance and London streets and tube carriages became littered with them. The amount of paper strewn everywhere was disgraceful, given the derth of convenient recycling outposts in the city. In January 2009, a 75.1% controlling interest in the loss-making Evening Standard was sold to Alexander Lebedev for £1 and Associated Newspapers retained a minority ownership. By June 2009, over 400,000 copies of London Lite were distributed each weekday and almost 500,000 of Thelondonpaper (Source: Guardian) compared to approximately 250,000 copies of the Evening Standard. But News International surprised the market and media analysts when it announced in August this year that it would be closing Thelondonpaper, the primary motivation reportedly being NI’s goal of increasing revenues through paid-for content. The loss-making free paper ceased publication on 18 September 2009. This should have heralded an end, finally, to the war of the free sheets between Associated and NI. It should have rid London streets of the environmental nightmare of wasted paper and annoying street distributors. Instead what followed was the Evening Standard’s move to drop the 50 pence cover price and increase its distribution to 600,000 per weekday.
I only rarely ever found an abandoned copy of the Evening Standard on a London Underground train. People seem to take more care with something that they have paid for and whilst they might not have recycled it as they should have, at least they departed with it somewhere sensible, most likely at their home. I don’t believe there will be a reprieve from the litter and wastefulness as one free paper has simply now been replaced by another. It comes at a cost. The negative environmental impact of increased use of printed paper continues, the future jobs of vendors are now at risk, and the Evening Standard is hoping that the revenue will come out of your pocket in some other way – through consumer spending having been lured by the advertising that appears on its free sheets.