For anyone who does not live in London, the announced closure of the News International afternoon freesheet thelondonpaper will not mean much. However for anyone living in London, or who goes to London regularly, the closure will see the end of a product that will be genuinely missed.
The title was launched in 2006 in direct competition to Associated's afternoon freesheet London Lite. This heralded the much media discussed "freesheet wars" and also mountains of wasted newsprint. The circulation of thelondonpaper alone is over 500,000 copies a day and add that to the morning Metro and the Lite and you have way over 1.2m free newspapers being taken to recycling centres daily.
When I was Director of marketing for our London newspaper division, one of my favourite sights was seeing tubes full of school kids reading free newspapers. Ok they may not have bought them but it proved to me that the touted "print is dead" theory is of course rubbish. Print is and will not be dead as that showed. Those kids wanted to read it because it was free, put into their hands so they did not have to go out of their way, and it gave them content in a style that they wanted, celebrity focused with light news digests.
The title had some great concepts, from a column from a different reader every day, to having regular columnist sch as gay about town pushing equality in the capital. Some commentators have said that the closure is no great loss as there was no quality content of note in the title. This i believe is missing the point. The title created a readership from nothing and was well read. Unfortunately that readership does not come cheaply.
The paper has over 60 staff excluding all hose who hand it out daily. That 500k print run is not cheap to say the least and news int announced that it had made a pre tax loss of £12.9m in this year alone.
Questions remain as to whether the London Lite will follow or now it is the only afternoon title it will improve its revenues and consolidate its position. Although i hope that Associated will take advantage of its new sole position and gain enough revenues to secure a long term future for the Lite especially now they have sold the Standard. The freesheet wars have been a brave and costly adventure but certainly it proved if only to me that our appetite to read is not diminished - just in a format we want.