The announcement follows the decision of rival publisher News International to axe its free afternoon daily in the capital, thelondonpaper.
The Evening Standard, currently with a cover price 50 pence, will go free from 12 October. The publisher plans to put more 600,000 copies into distribution daily.
The newspaper has been experimenting with different price points at different times of day in recent months.
Lebedev, chairman of Evening Standard Ltd, says: “I am confident that more than doubling the London Evening Standard’s circulation and maintaining quality journalism is what London deserves.”
Managing director Andrew Mullins says: “Sustaining a paid-for afternoon newspaper had its challenges even before the freesheets were launched in 2006. There are so many competing distractions to potential readers, particularly with new technologies. Being a quality newspaper with large scale and reach should transform our commercial fortunes.”
The newspaper recently switched the methodology for measuring its average net circulation audit, choosing to be measured as a regional newspaper than a national publication.
The London Evening Standard was bought from Associated Newspapers earlier this year. The latter distributes its own free afternoon paper London Lite with about 400,000 copies being handed out daily. Associated Newspapers also publishes the free morning newspaper Metro.
The publisher says that it is “early days” since the closure of thelondonpaper and the launch of the new edition of the London Evening Standard has not happened yet. “Therefore we continue to assess the situation and we are pleased with the progress we are making with the London Lite,” says a spokesperson.
Speculation was rife five years ago that Associated Newspapers had given serious thought to turning the Evening Standard into a free publication.