From January, my old newspaper, the Evening Standard, will be more genuinely an evening. It is to drop its 9am edition, using the presses vacated by London Lite to print all its 600,000 copies in the afternoon. I always thought the Standard should focus more on the end of the day. That early edition essentially went to press before anything had happened – but now every Standard reader will get fresher news, and the hacks won’t have to get up at 4am. As well as saving money, there’s a lot to be said for giving people something whose content is completely different from their morning read.
But there are downsides, such as up to 20 job losses. And the move to afternoons can only accelerate one unfortunate side-effect of the Standard’s change to free. It’s in danger of becoming, not London’s newspaper, but central London’s newspaper. I live in Greenwich, only three miles from the printworks, but it’s almost impossible to find the Standard any more – and I miss reading it, as do a lot of my neighbours. Steadfastly ignoring my change of employer, my newsagent, Raj, gently chides me when I go in his shop – he had plenty of customers for the Standard.
Various boring Standard-haters would always claim that no one outside Chelsea read the paper. But in the real world, the sense of loss, as the BBC recently found, seems quite widespread, with a lot of people in places like Walthamstow and Palmers Green who’d been taking it for years deprived overnight. That’s no way to treat your loyal readers. The moneymen say that it costs too much to deliver to far-flung suburbs. But the counter-argument is this. For a paper now entirely dependent on ad revenue, it is crucial to get yourself into the hands of not just any old 600,000 readers – but the right 600,000 readers. Readers who live in London; readers with money to spend; and readers who actually want to read the paper.
What they’re doing at the moment is giving a fair proportion of those 600,000 copies to tourists and visitors; to people who probably won’t be interested in the houses, cars and clothes advertised; and to people who only take it because it is thrust into their hands, people who may glance through it briefly, then throw it away.
I think there’s a lot of demand – and a lot of ad revenue – in places like Greenwich, many of them rather prosperous. They should divert some of those 600,000 copies to us, or even sell it to us while keeping it free in the centre. At the very least, they should make strenuous efforts to make sure that Zones 2-6 know about the excellent (and now also free) full-paper PDF download. I think we’d repay the attention.