As newspaper publishers grapple with the dilemma of whether to charge for their online content, they face another daunting challenge: whether to keep selling their printed newspapers.

Last Friday the London Evening Standard, one of the grand mastheads of the English language, threw in the towel. After more than 180 years as a paid-for title, the Standard announced that from later this month its print newspaper will be free.

At present, the Standard has an audited “paid” circulation of 235,000 a day, but half of these are already given away. Here in Australia, audited “paid” newspaper circulation also includes a component of free give-aways — papers that are available free at airports, carparks, office buildings, schools, universities, gyms, cafes and the like.

The Standard says it will give away 600,000 copies a day, punting on increased revenue from advertisers who want to reach its enlarged, quality audience.

Newspaper publishers everywhere will be avidly watching the Evening Standard’s decision to drop its print paywall. Here you have a pretty good newspaper with a blue-chip editorial reputation, servicing the upper echelons of one of the world’s most vibrant cities, flipping the switch to free at precisely the moment that other publishers, led by Rupert Murdoch, are arguing the case for charging for online as well as print content on the basis that it’s worth paying for.

The Standard, which is owned by Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev, clearly disagrees with the Murdoch value assessment on journalism. The value it now places on its editorial content is zero, opting instead for the internet calculus of delivering large free audiences for advertisers to pay for.

In the unravelling of the world of journalism, there is now a new standard.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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