The upshot of this bizarre situation is that Associated Newspapers has deliberately paid people to undermine and block all my attempts to give it the full 40p price for the Standard. It's a bit like Selfridges giving away Christmas presents in the street right outside the store.
Newspapers are under such pressure these days that it would be churlish to do anything other than welcome a new addition to the endangered species, however strange. Yet newspaper folk have been scratching their heads at the wisdom of launching a free paper in the few paperless hours between the handing out of Metro and the arrival of the full Standard.
At a very superficial level it will work. Print a few magic words at the top - in this case '20p where sold' - and you can apparently turn the base metal of a freebie into proper, fully paid-for circulation.
The trouble is, even if you can get away with fighting declining sales by adding Standard Lite, nobody will be fooled. Advertising people will simply not treat copies thrust into consumers' hands in the street in the same way that they treat purchased copies - and nor should they.
One theory doing the rounds is that the Standard has looked hard and long at its business model and decided that something dramatic is needed, because it is impossible to stem the paper's frightening loss of sales by conventional methods.
The other thought, of course, is that Standard Lite is designed to pre-empt the much more serious threat from Richard Desmond, who plans to launch a free afternoon paper in the capital.
Conventional wisdom suggests Desmond is only joking. After all, he has been talking about it for years and nothing has happened, other than a ludicrous High Court case between Associated and Express Newspapers over what the title of the non-existent paper could be.
Desmond is entirely capable of waking up one morning and saying he was only teasing and that it was all a wind-up of Associated's proprietor, Viscount Rothermere. But I doubt it. The delay is easily explained - it is down to the glacial speed at which the Office of Fair Trading has investigated whether Associated's distribution deals in railway stations infringes competition law.
Desmond is many things, but he is no fool. Rumours are spreading that the OFT will soon find in his favour. If this is correct, Desmond's evening paper will not be far behind. The owner of the Daily Express hates Rothermere with a passion, and anything that damages the Standard will be an attack by proxy on the real enemy - the Daily Mail. It is a battle he is prepared to pursue for decades if necessary.
Metro was a triumph, and inflicted little real damage on Associated's paid-for titles. But Standard Lite will put further pressure on the Standard's sales window without compensating gains. The main Standard will in effect become a one-edition paper, and thousands of its readers will be confused, if not actually lost to a giveaway that might be too good for its purpose.
Desmond will see it as a sign of weakness, rather than a barrier to his entry to the market. He will be licking his lips over Christmas in anticipation of the battle to come.
30 SECONDS ON ... STANDARD LITE
- The 48-page Standard Lite is given away in central London between 11.30am and 2.30pm. It is placed next to Evening Standard vendors in orange bins. The distribution area roughly corresponds to the zone inside the Circle Line.
- The initial print run is 50,000, though Associated Newspapers plans to extend it to 100,000 copies in January if the paper is successful
- Martin Clarke, who has worked on Associated's Ireland on Sunday title, was brought in to help Standard editor Veronica Wadley launch the freesheet.
- The free paper is seen by press buyers as a reaction to the Standard's sales decline. Circulation figures for May to October were down 7.8% year on year to 368,493. Press buyers have been told that Standard Lite will be applying for an Audit Bureau of Circulations figure in February.