London Evening Standard may give away more copies

Capital's freesheet reported to be considering raising its free distribution from 600,000

The London Evening Standard has confirmed that is it considering a boost to its free distribution, but said it is yet to take a final decision.

Doug Wills, the Evening Standard managing editor, responded to industry speculation that the paper could boost its distribution from 600,000 copies a day to 800,000 or even 1m by saying an increase was an option for late 2010. There were no figures for the size of the possible distribution increase, he added.

"There won't be any increase in January but there are certainly options for later in the year. It's not been decided. There is no formal plan for the beginning of the year," he said.

In October the Standard dropped its 50p cover price and more than doubled its daily circulation to 600,000 copies.

The move slashed distribution costs from 30p a copy to just 4p, the editor, Geordie Greig, said last month, adding that the paper's distribution footprint had contracted to central London. "Demand has been overwhelming," Wills told

But the Standard has fielded complaints from readers in the suburbs of London who are no longer able to get copies of the paper.

In response the paper has launched a scheme with 70 newsagents that allows readers to reserve a daily copy if they live outside central London. The newsagents are based in north and north-west London and the scheme is set to expand.

Wills denied there was any doubt over the future of ES Magazine, the glossy Friday supplement launched in 1987.

"It is still a very important part of the paper. If anyone has seen the magazine recently it is bigger than ever and full of advertising. Nothing's changed," he said.

But amid reports that ES Magazine is now only available in central London, the Evening Standard has launched a scheme to have it home delivered, which costs £14.99 a quarter for postage and packaging. The magazine remains free.

From 4 January, the Evening Standard will drop its midday News Extra edition in favour of a West End Final, hitting the street from 2pm. The paper is axing 20 editorial and production jobs as it drops down to one edition.

The News Extra first edition, which delivers about half of the 600,000 total daily distribution, goes to press at 9am to hit the streets at midday.

Under the new system, the full 600,000 run will be delivered on up to four printing presses – up from the current two – starting from about 12.30pm, which will give editorial staff almost four more hours to deliver stories in the morning. Stories will be updated throughout the afternoon with a "slip" edition out in the late afternoon.

Alan Brydon, head of press at media buying agency Media Planning Group, who ran the Standard's advertising operation from 2002 to 2006, said that the paper had to make itself available later in the day because the wrong market was getting too many copies.

"The problem they have got is now it's free it's going too quickly. At the moment I don't think the Standard is being picked up by typical Standard readers," Brydon added.

"The reason we buy the Standard in a very simplistic sense is to reach commuters – we don't want shoppers and tourists in the middle of the afternoon."

Brydon was sceptical that the distribution boost by 200,000 or 400,000 copies a day would happen. "My own view is that if they move it to the evening they won't need it," he said.

He pointed out that increasing distribution by 200,000 copies would add 33% to paper costs. "They won't get 33% more advertising revenue, firstly it's just not there," Brydon said.

But an internal source said that the Standard had cut its page length by 2cm, saving the paper nearly £2m a year in paper costs.

Brydon said that the problem with large circulations of freesheet titles was that it became more difficult to convince media buyers that the distribution is targeted.

"The bigger they get the more people are concerned whether the right people are getting it," he added. "They don't need it, in this day and age 600,000 is a massive number."

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Stephen Brook

The GuardianTramp

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