Until recently, London's Evening Standard was the must-read for the commuter. But now it is under siege. The 'broadsheet tabloids' compete with it on urban convenience, morning freesheet Metro - also published by Associated Newspapers - has dented its circulation and ad revenue and, most seriously, Express Newspapers is planning a free evening paper to challenge the Standard's monopoly.
There are also more news sources for Londoners to choose from, including mobile and online. All of this is evident in the Standard's recent performance. Continuing a 30-year decline, the latest ABC figures show an 8% year-on-year circulation fall to 370,832. In the year to September 2003, the paper reported a loss of £17m.
On 14 December Associated launched the free afternoon paper Standard Lite. A hybrid of Metro and the Evening Standard, the 48-page Standard Lite is an appetiser for the 40p 'heavy' evening paper. Associated argues that the Lite edition will bolster ad coverage, and hopes the typically younger readers of freesheets will graduate to the paid-for Standard.
It also serves as spoiler for the Express freesheet launch.
However, critics say Standard Lite sounds the death-knell for paid-for evening papers and will cannibalise the Standard brand. Media buyers voice concerns that Standard Lite will take the Evening Standard's readership downmarket.
We asked Jenny Beckman, head of marketing at another London news brand, LBC 97.3 FM and LBC News 1152AM, and Carl Lyons, marketing director at 95.8 Capital FM, to assess how the Standard can survive these turbulent times.
DIAGNOSIS 1 - JENNY BECKMAN, Head of marketing, LBC 97.3FM and LBC News 1152AM
The biggest threat to the Evening Standard comes from two key sources, both of which are found within the Associated Newspapers stable.
The first is Metro. Despite its editorial not being London-specific, it has a long shelf-life, with some commuters leaving their copies on trains and buses for others to read, while others hang on to their copy. After all, why pay for something when you can get it for free?
The second is Evening Standard's online brand,thisislondon.co.uk, which from the convenience of our desks and for free (except for the £10-a-year subscription-only Insider's Guide stories) provides national and London news, further diminishing the need to buy an evening paper.
So surely another free newspaper from the same company, and seemingly tapping mainly into the tourist market, with a high degree of wastage for advertisers, is only going to compound its problems with fewer people paying for the paper?
The Standard needs to reclaim its ownership of London.
- Organise distribution in major London outlets such as a coffee chain - as The Times has with Starbucks.
- Invest in the future. Get students on board. Host forums and lectures at all London further education institutions.
- Take London issues onto the street with street marketing campaigns.
- Use thisislondon.co.uk as a tease for the purchase of the paper, rather than a free online version of it.
DIAGNOSIS 2 - CARL LYONS, Marketing director, 95.8 Capital FM
When I moved South 17 years ago as a rather excitable youth, the Evening Standard 's barking vendors offered tangible proof - along with Time Out, Routemaster buses and yes, Capital FM - that I really had made it to London.
The fundamental problem for the Standard in 2004 is how to remain an essential purchase. If you were working from home today, would you go out to the shops to buy one?
The Standard used to be an invaluable catch-up on the day's events. Ten years ago point-of-sale teasers such as 'Cabinet resignation' compelled you to buy the paper to find out more. Last week, I left the office having seen David Blunkett's resignation on Sky News, only to see 'Support fades for Blunkett' still on the Standard board.
Consumers have become used to getting information for free, something compounded by Associated's own Metro newspaper. The launch of Standard Lite throws the Standard's 40p cover price into uncomfortable relief, but if this is what people want, at least it's 'better us than someone else'.
- Focus on 'Londonness' in the editorial. See the world through the eyes of Londoners, rather than parochially being about London.
- Throw extra effort into providing useful information beyond news - comprehensive listings, ideas and reviews, for example.
- Continue those 'win this car by 9pm tonight' impulsive promotions.
- Publish collectable series such as 'The 50 Best Brunch Restaurants'.