Monday, October 12, 2009

London's Evening Standard free after 182 years

The London Evening Standard is to be handed out free later today [Monday 12th October] after 182 years as a paid-for regional newspaper. The move comes after years of stiff competition with free London papers such as the Associated Newspapers' Metro and London Lite, owned by the Daily Mail. The Evening Standard said in a statement last Friday that it would stop charging from October 12th and hopes its circulation will double to more than 600,000 from its current 250,000 daily sales. Its 50 pence cover price has put off many consumers who have opted for the free alternatives. The Evening Standard has struggled since the launch in 2006 of thelondonpaper and London Lite.

But even the free news market is not without its victims. thelondonpaper, which was published by News Corp, Rupert Murdoch's media empire, closed last month. The decision to hand out copies for free has angered the hundreds of newspaper vendors across the capital who see their trade disappearing, as well as a way of life. Many rely on the selling of the paper to make a living. One newspaper seller expressed his sadness at the decision to the BBC's World Service. James Taylor described the job as "brilliant" saying he sold some 400 to 500 copies a day. "I'm gutted after all these years," he said. "At the end of day there's gonna be no vendors on London's streets. It's part of London's heritage and that's gonna go."

The Evening Standard's move comes shortly after Rupert Murdoch raised questions of free news media. The media mogul wants more paid-for news content and has criticised the culture that has built around the Internet where aggregation sites such as Google and Yahoo make news content available for free. "There should be a price paid for quality content, and yet large media organizations have been submissive in the face of the flat-earthers who insisted that all content should be free all the time," Murdoch said at the World Media Summit in Beijing last week.

However, many have labelled Murdoch as being unrealistic given the vast number of news outlets. Murdoch and AP's Tom Curley have criticised the likes of Google for aggregating their content. However, they could very easily withdraw from Google's indexing. The Internet search giant makes it possible for any site owner to opt-out of its trawling of the net with just a few keystrokes. All they have to do is go to the website's robot.txt file and type: User-agent: Googlebot, Disallow:/ . Of course by doing so News Corp and AP would kill much of their readership at a stroke given that most visitors to their sites come via Internet searches.

News outlets, more than at any time before, rely on advertising to keep going. No longer can they simply rely on sales. While an elite few may pay for content, this old format is dwindling fast.

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