London battlefield – one year later
Almost one year ago, on August 30, 2006, London saw the conversion of the free Evening Standard spin-off Standard Lite to London Lite. Circulation was increased from 80,000 to almost 400,000. A week later, on September 4, News International launched their own free daily thelondonpaper with a circulation of 425,000. London Lite’s circulation is still around 400,000 while Murdoch’s free daily increased circulation to more than 500,000. The paid Evening Standard survived, but not without bruises.
Although there is not much evidence worldwide of substitution – except Iceland and perhaps Denmark – the London situation might be different. In the UK in general substitution is not very obvious as the graph (circulation x 1000) shows.
Circulation already dropped before any free paper was introduced while circulation remained stable in the first free-daily years (1999 – 2002). Only in 2003 paid circulation dropped again although there was no increase in free circulation that year. The drop in paid circulation in 2006 could be attributed partly to the increase of free dailies although these dailies were only available in the last four months of that year.
The Sun, leading UK tabloid lost 25% circulation since 1995, down to 3 million in 2006. Also other tabloids like the Mirror and Express lost, in all three cases the decrease begun already before the introduction of free dailies. The Daily Record lost a third of its circulation in the last 8 years. The Daily Mail remained stable while the Star even gained some circulation. Did the Evening Standard suffer more than other papers? The paper lost 30% circulation between 1999 and 2006, but again dropped 10 percent since August 2006. A substantial part of the last drop can probably be attributed to the London paper war, also because both competitors are targeting the same group and are distributed in the same places. But the circulation problems of the Standard begun way before this war – the battle might have increased the problems but it certainly did not cause them.
Although the circulation war is often covered in the press, the probably more important question of readership is not a UK-thing, the papers are more obsessed with circulation. Circulation of both free afternoon dailies might be impressive, but readership – what advertisers are paying for – might be more important. How many readers do the papers have, what kind of readers are they and how long do they read the free dailies?
Also interesting is why News International is so interested in the afternoon market, as the Standard has been losing money for ages now. With the Sun dominating the morning market, they are of course not too eager launch a Metro competitor that could hurt the Sun too. Apart from a personal interest of Rupert Murdoch, it could well be that News International thinks that the London afternoon market is actually very profitable but that The Evening Standard is doing a lousy job in covering it. News International seems confident about the evening market in general, as the company is thinking about launching thelondonpaper concept in other markets too. But even if that’s true, this market is probably not big enough for one paid and two free ones. For Associated Newspapers the problem is even bigger, how long will it support two papers that are both losing money in that market?