The London Evening Standard, owned by Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev has become a free newspaper from today - a revolutionary move designed to boost the paper's circulation from 250,000 to more than 600,000.
Londoners will not have to pay the 50 pence they have been currently paying for the 182 year-old paper even as the paper stands to lose about £12 million a year by becoming free, which it hopes to make up through enhnced advertising revenues from a higher circulation.
With the global media world carefully monitoring the switchover from a paid to a free paper, the management of the Evening Standard said that the paper will maintain its quality of journalism and none of the editorial would change with the paper going free.
Lebedev, chairman of Evening Standard, has said doubling the paper's circulation and "maintaining its quality journalism" is what London deserves.
"The Standard has been producing exceptional journalism since 1827 and that is not going to change under my ownership," he added.
"The London Evening Standard is the first leading quality newspaper to go free and I am sure others will follow."
But with print media losing its advertising money to the internet, the Evening Standard has become the first quality newspaper holding views opposit to online publishers, a majority of whom says that they would charge for online content. (See: UK online publishers plan to charge for content)
The Evening Standard has been facing immense competition from some down market free sheets distributed in London as well as from Rupert Murdoch's three-year old thelondonpaper that folded up in September. (See: Murdoch closes Londonpaper after $21.2 million loss)
Murdoch himself is leading a crusade against news being distributed free. His media company News Corporation already charges for The Wall Street Journal's online edition and claims that it is the most successful paid news site on the internet.
Speaking at the World Media Summit in Beijing last week, Murdoch said, "If we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid-for content, it will be the content creators, the people in this hall, who will pay the ultimate price, and the content kleptomaniacs will triumph." (See: Rupert Murdoch urges China to open up media market)
The Evening Standard's circulation, which stood at 443,185 in July 2000, had tumbled to 225,158 in July 2009, with paid sales being only 127,503.
In February, Lebedev-a former KGB agent stationed in the Russian embassy in London and part owner of Russia's Aeroflot airline, led a consortium to acquire 74.9 per cent of the Evening Standard newspaper for a nominal sum from its owner Daily Mail & General Trust. (See: Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev buys London's Evening Standard newspaper)
At the time of the acquisition, Lebedev had said that he and his family "are strong supporters of a free and independent press and we greatly admire the Evening Standard as an iconic publication with its pedigree of fine journalism and commentary."
Evening Standard managing director Andrew Mullins said that competition from the internet, 24 hour TV news channels and mobile phones had compelled the management to take this decision, which was approved by Lebedev.
In its first week the paper will not be available in any of the 4,000 independent newsagents that used to stock it, although this may change in coming weeks.
The paper will be cutting its distribution costs by handing out the newspaper in supermarkets and train stations where there are huge numbers of people using the tube to go and come back from work each day.