Only one in 25 passers-by stop at the newsstand to pick up a copy of London's Evening Standard according to research. So, in December, Associated Newspapers set about targeting the huge swathe of potential readers with the capital's latest freesheet.
Standard Lite is a slimline edition of the Standard, more female-oriented and aimed at a younger reader than that of the four-edition 'full fat' version.
The 48-page publication has half the pagination of the Standard and a smaller sport section, no business section, supplements nor columnists.
It is distributed between 11.30am and 2.30pm within the London Underground's Circle line, and predominantly the West End.
Lite launched last month with a 50,000 circulation and, if successful, plans to double this to 100,000 this month. The move is, ultimately, designed to generate more sales of the main Standard, with Lite providing a 'taster', claims Associated Newspapers MD Mike Anderson.
The launch of a freesheet from Express Newspapers proprietor Richard Desmond depends on the decision of the Office of Fair Trading, which is investigating his claim that the exclusive distribution deal between London Underground and Associated Newspapers, which also publishes Metro, is uncompetitive.
However, Anderson denies Lite is designed to scupper Desmond's rumoured launch. He says: 'Richard can do what he wants. He needs to do stuff instead of talking about it - we have been planning Standard Lite for two years.'
What Anderson doesn't deny is the steady decline in the Standard's circulation since the 1990s. The slump has continued into this millennium.
Its ABC for January to June 2004 was 390,000, compared to 445,000 during the first half of 2000. Anderson attributes the slide to the rise of web-based news.
On Associated's decision to launch a freesheet, Guardian media commentator Roy Greenslade says: 'Doing nothing (would have been) a poor way of coping with the decline in newspaper sales, especially in the metropolitan evening papers. With the exception of Glasgow's Evening Times, all evening papers are in decline.'
British Journalism Review and Independent columnist Bill Hagerty says: 'The ABC has not yet given (Associated) permission to incorporate the Standard Lite figures in overall sales figures and advertisers are not impressed with free papers. The streets are littered with them.'
But while newspaper bosses wait to see if the experiment works, PROs are welcoming the title.
'They are looking for short bites and it will be great for surveys, competitions and promotions,' says Four Communications head of media relations Greg Moore. '(Lite) will also be good for travel, fashion, and shopping. It is almost a consumer title.'
Shine Communications director Mitchell Kaye says: 'It is increasingly difficult to break into Metro, because so many people are trying to do it and because Metro has got increasingly savvy about its commercial value.'
Because Lite's content is short, sharp and celebrity heavy, it will be an important publication for PROs in the entertainment industry, agrees Frank PR managing director Andrew Bloch.
'This is the perfect medium to generate "talkability". Reaching people in their lunchtime has previously been a difficult thing to do but this publication will be fodder for lunchtime conversation and will stimulate chat in the workplace,' he says.
While the news and reviews largely replicate the main paper, there are sections unique to Lite towards the middle of the paper. These include a Monday lifestyle guidance column, Leonie Frieda's Guide to Life, a shopping tips section under the banner 'Lunchbreak' and 'Hit or Miss', a series of shots of celebrities caught on camera.
Firefly Communications managing director Mark Mellor says Lite is a good place to run promotions and competitions. However, it would need to develop a higher circulation to have good value for PROs.
'Fifty thousand copies does not sound like much; we would probably target the women's lifestyle magazines as a preference,' he says.
Whether Standard Lite will boost the main paper's flagging sales remains to be seen. Greenslade says: 'I have absolutely no idea (if launching Standard Lite will boost revenue).
'It is part of a series of experiments, like transferring broadsheets to tabloid. No one knows yet whether it will help overall sales but it is valid to try.'
EVENING STANDARD AND STANDARD LITE CONTACTS
Associated Newspapers 020 7960 7439
Standard and Standard Lite editor Veronica Wadley,
Lite (launch) editor Martin Clarke, Martin.Clarke@standard.co.uk
Deputy editor Ian MacGregor, Ian.MacGregor@standard.co.uk
News editor Ian Walker, Ian.Walker@standard.co.uk
Features editor Guy Eaton, Guy.Eaton@standard.co.uk
Lite reporter (temp) Richard Edwards, Richard.Edwards@standard.co.uk