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DMGT’s London Lite Closing: Capital’s Free Newspaper War Ends

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Associated Newspapers’ free evening title London Lite is to close, parent company DMGT confirmed on Tuesday, two months after News International’s free thelondonpaper printed its last issue. To the delight of London Evening Standard owner Alexander Lebdev, Lite has been squeezed out of the market entirely by the now-free Standard which claims to distributes close to 600,000 copies each weekday.

Steve Auckland, head of Associated’s free division obliquely refers to the Standard’s free onslaught as the main driver behind the decision: “The latest development in the London afternoon free newspaper space dictates that we look again at the future of London Lite. Despite reaching a large audience with an excellent editorial format, we are concerned about the commercial viability in this highly competitive area“. That leaves DMGT with just the daily, morning title Metro in its free stable — that title recently laid off some 30 regional arts journalists to counteract the downturn. The Standard now has a free reign in the capital’s evening newspaper market and a much better chance of making its surprise freebie model work.

Associated says in a statement that it’s only consulting on the future of the paper, a process that “may” result in closure — but it’s only saying this because 36 staff jobs are at risk and a statutory consultation period has to happen before anyone can be laid off. It is thought that Lite enjoyed some profitable weeks in the absence of thelondonpaper but it’s clear that it simply could not complete with the sheer editorial, commercial (and physical) weight of the Standard.

When Rupert Murdoch squared up to Lord Rothermere’s DMGT in September 2006 in an unsightly and unprofitable free publishing war, nobody could have predicted that the winner would be neither of those but Lebedev, a former KGB spy who used to read British newspapers to send reports back to the Kremlin.

But as recent PCUK guest contributor Piet Bakker put it, cities can’t sustain several free titles because “competition is worse for free than for paid papers because they are perfect substitutes for each other – which makes them an easy target for advertisers looking for discounts.”