The loss-making Evening Standard is looking forward to a £25 million, three-year investment under new owner, former KGB colonel Alexander Lebedev, resulting in more arts and business coverage. But there’s something missing from recent interviews given by the Russian billionaire and son Evgeny: any mention of online plans whatsoever. Though they don’t expect to profit from the Standard, the two must realise the paper is seriously lacking an enterprising web strategy, while the rest of the industry is already searching for one. So what can be done? Here’s how we think the new proprietor can juice the London’s paper’s web cred…
– Invest in online, original content The Standard‘s strategy for 20 years has been to spend big on marketing (all those Eros cards and free umbrellas don’t come cheap) to prioritise the unique, print edition. That time is over: if Lebedev really wants to his title to “compete”, he has no choice but to put serious investment online, making the website a destination in its own right. Even a recently launched online section for the Friday-night ES lifestyle supplement seems a way to promote dead-tree sales, rather than offer the online reader (or advertiser) anything new.
– Get the online branding right: Is it Thisislondon.co.uk, Standard.co.uk, or both? The paper’s management has chopped and changed over the years and failed to come to a coherent conclusion. The thisislondon.co.uk/standard URL is a hangover from DMGT’s UK regional “Thisis” network, but the Standard is a distinct, world-famous name, and Lebedev must make the most of it.
– Stop competing in the London newspaper wars: Because, no matter what it does, the Standard can’t win. With an average daily circulation of 287,000 — including 120,000 give-aways — it’s far behind thelondonpaper and London Lite‘s combined 900,000. And now they are both owned by rival publishers, even with all the promotional gimmicks and editorial investment in the world Lebedev can’t hope to beat the might and money of Murdoch and Rothermere in the circulation wars, with neither proprietor showing signs of retreat. However, neither freesheet has a quality website to speak of so why not invest in quality online and win that war instead?
– Go web-first: The current Standard team updates its website every 24 hours and only for the biggest breaking news; it’s not the timely hub news site for London it should be. Most newspapers still hold the biggest exclusives for print to maximise newsstand sales, but most nationals also publish the vast majority of their content online web-first, employing staff specifically to write and develop online journalism. Who are the Standard’s online stars?
– Get blogging, locally: The Standard has to capture the online debate before it runs away from it. There is a healthy community of London bloggers, from Dave Hill’s Guardian.co.uk city-wide musings, to Annie Mole’s award-winning London Underground blog and a growing number of more local networks springing up each month. The Standard’s top print writers do currently blog on their subjects – but two haven’t updated since November. Lebedev has spoken of sharing international content with newspapers around the world — he should first consider linking to content already available on readers’ doorsteps.
– Do multimedia: No video, no audio, no graphics… Standard.co.uk simply hasn’t explored the journalistic (and commercial) possibilities of online like its rivals. The Independent, not the richest paper on Fleet Street, has signed video content deals with France24 and al-Jazeera, proving that you don’t need a massive amount of cash to do multimedia.