Agencies fear new Standard Lite will trigger advertising-rate hike

Associated Newspapers launches the free Standard Lite today in what is regarded as either a lastditch attempt to shore up a declining brand or a brave move in a crowded market

But the decision to market the free offering from Associated, which already publishes the morning commuter freesheet Metro , as a diluted afternoon edition of the Evening Standard rather than a stand-alone title has already hit a wrong chord with some agency press chiefs.

Advertising sold within the pages of the mother brand will be duplicated within Standard Lite when it hits the street this week.

Media agencies are not being charged for the additional circulation until the end of February.

But press buyers are concerned that Associated may use the increased audience as an excuse to hike up its ad rates.

“The issue is that it is propping up a deteriorating readership with a free paper that doesn’t have the same value as a paid for,” said Nick Walker, managing partner at Walker Media. “It’s like adding bulks to its sales figure.”

Claudine Collins, press director at MediaCom, pointed out: “When they start to try and charge for it, I’m sure there will be discussions. They’ve got a cheek to charge more when the paid-for circulation is in decline.”

The managing director of Associated, Mike Anderson, briefed press buyers last week about the new paper, which will be available from 11.30am to 2.30pm in bins next to Evening Standard vendors in venues near the Circle Line. Standard Lite will start with an initial distribution of around 50,000 copies, rising to 100,000 next year.

The move comes as the main Standard ’s circulation figures have continued to fall. During November, the London daily’s circulation was down 10% compared to the same period last year, according to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations figures.

It now sells 370,832 copies a day, of which 40,000 are bulk copies.

During the same period, free sister brand Metro added more than 12% to its circulation, which grew to 1,009,813 (495,000 in London) – and it has become a strong vehicle for advertisers wanting to tap into its young urban readership.

In order to adhere to ad positional guarantees, the Standard has been having practice runs at the transfer of ads from the “fullfat” version to the lite edition.

With all the Standard ads going into the 48-page Standard Lite , it will have a higher advertising ratio – which is another concern for advertisers.

“The Lite version may well be more cluttered which has implications on ad stand-out,” said one press director.

Standard Lite is also aiming at a different target audience to that of its mother brand. Its focus will be younger female readers, mixing news and sport with a heavy leaning towards celebrity and entertainment.

But despite its different focus, readership details of Standard Lite will not be separated from that of the Evening Standard .

Additional female readers will bring a balance to the male dominated Evening Standard , and add much-needed increases to the overall Standard circulation, but Associated’s decision to treat the new title as an extra edition rather than a separate paper will make it difficult for advertisers to see where its value lies.

Collins said: “It will be a bit of a problem for us because we would like to see who’s picking it up and what we’re paying for.”

Another press director said that agencies would be reluctant to pay extra without getting some evidence of whom the additional readers are.

Likely rate-card changes for the Evening Standard and its Lite sibling will be discussed in the new year when the impact of the new edition can be analysed.

Associated has a history of clashes with the ad industry. Two years ago press buyers took umbrage at the Standard ’s decision to force media agencies to be locked into its controversial ratecard system.

This week the title declined to discuss the concerns raised.

The success of Standard Lite will be closely monitored by Associated rival Express Newspapers, which has been planning its own assault on the London market for some time.

Its launch is still resting on a decision from the Office of Fair Trading’s investigation into Associated’s allegedly unfair distribution deals.

A successful launch of Standard Lite will increase Associated’s stranglehold on the London market and could indeed scupper any plans by rivals.

Martin Clarke, who has worked on Associated Newspapers’ Ireland on Sunday title, has been brought in to help with the launch of Standard Lite alongside Standard editor Veronica Wadley

Clare Goff and Sheelagh Doyle

Associated circulations

Evening Standard 370,832 (down 10%)

Standard Lite circulation starts at 50,000, expected to rise to 100,000

Metro (UK-wide) 1,009,813 (up 12.46%)

Source: ABC. Average daily circulation in November compared to November 2003

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