diamond geezer

 Saturday, November 07, 2009

Four weeks on from the Evening Standard's giveaway rebirth, how is its distribution network doing? You may remember that free copies were originally available only outside central London stations and in scattered suburban supermarkets. Have things got any better? I've taken a look at the Evening Standard's newly-updated distribution map to find out.

Hmm, better. But could do better.

In the centre of London the story is pretty much the same as before. Full coverage at tube stations and mainline termini, which is great so long as you work or travel via one of them. And quite a few W H Smiths, even the bookshop in the basement of Selfridges (which isn't normally the sort of place I associated with picking up a freesheet newspaper). But still no vendors in tube-free Clerkenwell, as I noted a month ago, and no Standards available on Fleet Street.
At my local workplace tube station, the one I commute home from, The Evening Standard is being given out by the nice bloke who runs the newsagents kiosk outside. No special Standard hander-outers here, just a whopping pile of zero-priced papers securely positioned beneath a metal weight for anyone to take. This probably boosts sales at the kiosk as more people stop by, which is nice. But having to make an effort to seek, lift and remove one's own copy definitely diminishes the Standard's potential readership by a significant factor.

Head a little further out, say to Zone 2, and there's been a bit more progress. The Evening Standard is now increasingly available in the one type of shop where you'd expect to find it - in a newsagents. ES management have done a distribution deal with various independent stores and paper shops, widening availability to plug several previous gaping holes in the network. Residents of Blackheath, for example, can now pick up a Standard from Nicky's News on the Old Dover Road, from Shepherd Foods in Blackheath Village or from Platform News inside the station. That's a big improvement. And in Kilburn, previously an ES-desert, there's now distribution at Rainbow News, Pelican News and Smoker's Junction. Like I said, getting better.
But, erm, is it just me, or are the huge majority of these newsagent-type places in the western half of London, not the east. From the map it doesn't half look like they're concentrated in affluent areas like Richmond, Maida Vale and Barnes, not in less advertiser-friendly locations like Dalston, New Cross and Bow. Let me check by doing a tedious map-based survey of outlets in the W and E postcode areas... <goes away and checks>... I'll disregard postcode W1, because it's too central. Across postcodes W2-W14 there are 64 Standard dispensing outlets, one-third of these independent retailers. Whereas across the 18 E postcode areas there are only 34 distributors, every single one of them either at a station, a Smiths or a supermarket. Not one independent East End newsagent gives away the Standard. And that stinks.

Head further out, to the commuting suburbs, and the picture is as sparse as ever. If you want an Evening Standard in Zones 4, 5 or 6, you're probably going to have to head to your nearest major supermarket. We're talking major, the ones with the big car parks, so they're few and far between. And out here there's been almost no attempt whatsoever to broaden the distribution network since relaunch four weeks ago. In Romford you still have to head for Sainsburys or Asda, in Ruislip to a single southern Sainsbury, and in Purley a lonely Tesco Extra. Who's going to bother?
in Bow, where I live, the only place I can get a Standard is my local Tesco in Bromley-by-Bow. It's not somewhere I'd ever go daily, even if I worked from home. Even worse, the pile of Standards is located in a box beyond the entrance barrier, so popping in for a freebie paper and then leaving would make me look extremely shifty. As part of a supposed 'distribution network' this supermarket option is bloody useless, even tokenistic.

One more thing. The Standard's availability map now includes additional information about which edition of the paper you'll get where. In Central London you'll get both versions - the First Edition which hits newsstands at lunchtime and the West End Final which appears later in the afternoon. But step outside Zone 1 and you'll only find a copy of the First Edition, even if it's six o'clock in the evening. If Prince William gets engaged at lunchtime, readers at Kings Cross will read about it in their evening paper but readers in Islington will still see the earlier headline. Ditto there's a world of difference between Vauxhall (both) and Oval (first) only, and between Baker Street (new news) and St John's Wood (old news). Essentially, if you're not a homebound Central London commuter then you're a second class ES citizen.
I remember the days, not so long ago, when an orange and white van would pull up outside Bow Church DLR in the evening rush hour to deliver extra copies of the latest edition for the local populace to read. Those days are gone.

Having switched to publishing an un-paid-for freesheet, I guess it makes economic sense for the Evening Standard to cut its distribution costs to the bone. But the end result, even after a month of improvement, remains unimpressively parochial for a supposedly pan-London newspaper.

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