London's 'Evening Standard' to Become Free Paper

By: The Evening Standard has decided to take on rivals in London's fiercely competitive newspaper market by switching to free distribution later this month.

The 180-year-old paper's Russian tycoon owner says dropping the 50 pence ($0.80) price will make it the world's first quality newspaper to adopt the free model.

The move comes as newspapers around the world struggle to adapt to the challenge for readers from free news on the Internet and the plunge in advertising revenue caused by the global recession.

The Evening Standard's circulation will more than double from 250,000 to over 600,000 copies after it begins free distribution on Oct. 12, the paper said in a statement.

In the statement, company Chairman Alexander Lebedev said he wanted the paper, which the Russian tycoon and former KGB spy bought earlier this year, to be the world's "first leading quality newspaper to go free," and said he expects other papers to follow suit.

The paper, whose history can be traced back to 1827 and whose blue-and-white signboards and brash vendors are London institutions, has struggled to adapt to the Internet age. It is believed to lose millions of pounds a year and faces fierce competition with daily free afternoon newspapers.

Lebedev was ranked by Forbes magazine last year as the world's 358th richest man, worth more than $3 billion. But his fortune has been hit hard by the global economic downturn. Lebedev said last year that he has seen about two-thirds of his stock portfolio wiped out by the crisis and joked that he has fallen off the Forbes list.

Lebedev, 49, made his money in banking and insurance and has built a reputation as a philanthropist and champion of independent media.

As an intelligence agent, he served in the Soviet embassy in London in the 1980s. He has said that one of his main tasks was to read British newspapers and report on their contents, developing a particular fondness for the Standard.

Rupert Murdoch's media group News International, which publishes The Times and The Sun newspapers, said in August that it would shut down its daily freesheet, thelondonpaper.


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