October 2, 2009 / 11:02 AM / 10 years ago

London's Evening Standard to become free

LONDON, Oct 2 (Reuters) - London’s afternoon newspaper The Evening Standard is to be given away free from Oct. 12 to raise its distribution, it said on Friday, in the first major move in the fiercely competitive market by its new owner, Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev.

The newspaper, first launched as the “Standard” in 1827, said the number of circulated copies would rise to over 600,000 a day from 250,000, which would in turn pull in more advertisers.

“I am confident that more than doubling the London Evening Standard’s circulation and maintaining its quality journalism is what London deserves,” Lebedev said in a statement.

“The London Evening Standard is the first leading quality newspaper to go free and I am sure others will follow.”

Lebedev owns a majority stake in the newspaper, and former owner Daily Mail & General Trust (DMGOa.L) has retained a 24.9 percent stake.

The announcement marks the latest twist in the industry. Newspapers around the world have struggled in recent years, as readers and advertisers move online, forcing many to look for new business models.

But the Standard has been particularly hurt in the last two years by the launch of two free papers given out around the capital.

Rupert Murdoch’s (NWSA.O) freesheet thelondonpaper has since closed however, and The London Lite, which receives content from the Evening Standard, is still under review. The Standard said it believed its quality journalism would make the difference.

“Sustaining a paid-for afternoon newspaper had its challenges even before the freesheets were launched in 2006,” said Andrew Mullins, Managing Director of the London Evening Standard.

“Being a quality newspaper with large scale and reach should transform our commercial fortunes. Our London reach will be at multiples of the quality national titles and our London classified business will once again have significant scale.” (Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Rupert Winchester)

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