In the wake of a 6% fall in circulation and a 12 per cent drop in classified ad revenues, its owners have said the paper is expected to make a loss in this financial year.
But in a passionate defence of the title, Mike Anderson told Media Week that changes to ensure the Associated title’s future profitability were already in hand.
He said: “Don’t believe the cynics who say the Standard has a bleak future. It has a great future.”
The paper boosted display revenue by more than 11% during the first six months of the year, but classified advertising dropped by 12%, recruitment ads by 11% and circulation was down by 6% to 400,000 copies.
A further year-on-year decline is expected in the figures for May, due to be released this Friday. The depressing figures come before the paper has even had to face the challenge of a new free London evening paper from rival press baron Richard Desmond.
Agencies were downbeat. Tara Marus, a board director at BJK&E, said: “In the short term, I’d say the future was bleak. Long term, I’d say it’s going to take a brave move to make certain changes to make a difference.”
She said: “They need to do something quickly.”
Marus said there was a danger that agencies and their clients would stop advertising in the paper if circulation continued to fall. She said: “They’ll look at other media platforms which are readily available in London.”
She said: “My personal opinion is that the Standard has become quite a complacent paper over the past few years. I only really read it to do the two crosswords on my 10-minute train journey home. It’s not moved with the times as much as it should have done and with the relative threat of Desmond’s title, they’ve had every opportunity to do something.”
Steve Goodman, group press director of MediaCom, echoed her comments. He said: “I think the Standard needs to do something radical. The paper hasn’t moved on in the past few years. It hasn’t done enough to bring the newer readers in at the younger end.”
Goodman added: “I think there probably are a number of clients who have been holding back waiting for Richard Desmond’s title to hit the streets.”
Desmond’s new arrival has been waiting in the wings for a year, pending a report by the Office of Fair Trading into his complaints over Associated’s stranglehold on the key rail distribution points in London, which it relies upon for both the Standard and Metro.
Some in the Desmond camp make little effort to hide their delight that the Standard appears to be struggling even without a head-to-head rival.
Former Standard advertising sales director Mike Orlov, who departed within weeks of Metro boss Anderson taking the reins of the Standard in October 2002, was recruited by Desmond to head sales on the new title.
He said: “In the fiscal year which ended last September, we know they lost £17m. This year, I think, they are budgeting for a loss of £5m.
“On the ad sales side, they lost a lot of people last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d had a 40% staff turnover. This year the cull has been in editorial.”
Anderson’s comments appear to be part of a media offensive by senior Standard staff. This week, editor Veronica Wadley gave her first interview since taking over.
Anderson told Media Week: “The Standard is getting a bit of an overhaul at the moment, but it takes a long time to turn these things around. We had a significantly better year than the year before and we’re anticipating an even better year next year.”
Anderson said the paper had cut the number of editions from five to three a day and undergone many staff changes and a restructuring.
“If you look at the paper from this week onwards, we’ve got 64 pages of colour,” he said.
“There isn’t a newspaper in the country that has got that amount of colour availability.”
Anderson said the 4 June edition was 100 pages, the biggest of any daily paper and that yesterday’s (7 June) had 112 pages.
“The Standard shouldn’t go desperately in search of young people,” he said. “The people who read the paper are ABC1, aged 25 to 54, sophisticated and influential Londoners and that hardcore audience is surrounded by clusters of influence.
“If you are in the arts world, you read the Standard. If you’re in entertainment, you read the Standard.
If you are in politics, you read the Standard. If you’re in the City, you read the Standard. And if you’re the Prime Minister, you worry about what’s on the front page of the Standard. It’s a massively influential newspaper.
“Who is the Daddy when it comes to upmarket commuters? It’s the Standard. And I’ve got the biggest circulation, haven’t I? We have bigger classified sections than any compact broadsheet.”
Anderson said the falls in classified and recruitment ad revenues had hit newspapers across the board, but he predicted better times ahead. The 11% growth in display ad revenues, he said, was a powerful answer to the critics.
“There isn’t an evening newspaper in the world that isn’t experiencing some decline in circulation,” added Anderson. “But I would never give up hope in the belief that I could grow the Standard’s circulation.”
Read all about it: the Evening Standard’s rocky ride
January 2002: Veronica Wadley appointed editor following Max Hastings’ decision to concentrate on writing books.
October 2002: Mike Anderson joins from the Metro as new managing director, replacing Sally de la Bedoyere, who popped up 18 months later as boss of radio industry body Rajar.
October 2002: Advertising sales director Mike Orlov leaves the paper, only to reappear nine months later as sales boss on Richard Desmond’s long-anticipated rival to the Standard.
May 2003: Office of Fair Trading launches a lengthy and still unresolved investigation into exclusive contracts to distribute newspapers in the capital’s tube and railways stations.
September 2003: A trial home delivery project with Foxtons estate agents is launched in South West London only to fizzle out within months without an extension to the deal.
April 2004: Latest circulation figures reveal a year-on-year slump of 4.36% to 388,000 copies – a drop of 51,000 since October 2002.