DMGT commits to the London Lite

LONDON - The Daily Mail & General Trust has confirmed its long-term commitment to its free London Lite evening paper, despite last week's sale of the Evening Standard to former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev for £1.

New Evening Standard owner Alexander Lebedev
New Evening Standard owner Alexander Lebedev

London Lite was launched in 2006 to counter News International's attempts to undermine the Evening Standard by launching thelondon- paper  freesheet.

But Peter Williams, finance director at DMGT, denied London Lite is now set to close. He claims it is losing less money than last year and said that DMGT would not have made the deal with Lebedev if it had compromised the free paper.

But while News International and Associated Newspapers claim they are still committed to investment in their freesheets, they would have to reassess distribution should Lebedev opt to go free with the Standard or turn it into a morning paper.  However,  currently it is believed the Standard will continue as it is.

Lebedev is promising to invest millions to guarantee the survival of the loss-making newspaper, but has yet to disclose a business plan for the Standard. It is understood Andrew Mullins will remain managing director and Simon Davies advertising director.

The Standard's ad team is  likely to increase with 10 new appointments. Lebedev is also looking to appoint a high-profile editorial and advisory board, including Tony Blair and Mikhail Gorbachev, and a new editor, expected to be current Tatler editor Geordie Greig.

A source close to the Russian said: "At this stage, we can say Lebedev will look to improve the website, have more content on arts and culture, more liberal views and will look to connect with younger readers."

Under the deal, Associated retains a 24.9% stake, and London Lite­ will continue to use editorial copy from the Standard, despite competing against it for advertisers.

But such a deal appears incongruous to Ian Clark, managing director of thelondonpaper. He said: "The swapping of editorial content is unusual, as the two papers are in competition. Is this not going to be of detriment to the editorial copy of the London Lite?"

Simon Kelner, managing director of Independent Newspapers, denied a sale of the Indy titles to Lebedev has been discussed, despite reports suggesting he is looking at the papers.

Real deal... but sad day
Peter Williams
Finance director
DMGT

"The deal makes good sense for DMGT as it guarantees its future. We will continue to invest in the London Lite and are pleased with its progress. The Standard was a financial concern. But the sale was a sad day for the company. Newspapers remain a core interest for us. We are committed to investment in the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Metro and London Lite."

Ian Clark
Managing director
thelondonpaper

"The new ownership of the Standard will have minimal impact on our paper. A big investment in marketing will benefit the Standard. But even if it increases its circulation by 10% or 20%, it will have minimal impact on us because in some areas we are distributing five or six times more than the Standard. As the economy moves into recession, people are moving away from buying paid-for newspapers."

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