As one newspaper falls while another rises in the UK, News Editor Cian Carton sets out the story and contrasting opinions which have developed behind these events.
The End of the Independent
After 30 years, the Independent newspaper is set to cease production on March 26th. The announcement marks the end of the paper, along with its Independent on Sunday edition. The history of the paper has been intertwined with Irish media for over a decade, a relationship which may have contributed to its ultimate downfall.
Tony O’Reilly purchased the newspaper in 1998 for £30 million. The huge losses he sustained in order to maintain its production opened up another battleground in the fight for control of Independent News and Media (IN&M) in Ireland, between himself and Denis O’Brien. In 2011, Alexander Lebedev bought the Independent from O’Reilly for £1 and an agreement to cover its debts. His son, Evgeny, ran the business.
In 2014, the Guardian reported on the business arrangements under which the Independent operated. The newspaper functioned under two different companies. One handled the print business. The other owned the online assets, like its domain. This protected the online assets from the loss-making print paper. An issue which was noted at the time was the role of content creation. While there were two companies, the online one relied on the print papers for most of its content.
While the print editions will end, its spin-off, the i, has been acquired by Johnston Press. The i was launched in 2010 as a cut-price alternative, first priced at only 20p, and aimed at younger audiences. It has a circulation of around 275,000 copies, and is marketed as being a high-quality broadsheet. Interestingly, like the Independent’s website, it relies upon the main papers for content. Given the closeness between them, it will be fascinating to see how its operation will continue under new ownership.
A New Day?
As the Independent winds down, a new newspaper is preparing to enter the market. The New Day is set to run as a 40 page weekday newspaper, launching at a cheap price of around 25p to generate interest. Trinity Mirror’s new venture is reported to be targeting a mid-market audience, while a dummy issue displayed a mocked-up turquoise masthead, in contrast to the standard red top design.
The Guardian claimed that the New Day would have the lowest advertising rates for a national print newspaper within the UK, once the Independent closes. The New Day will not have a website, but survive online through social media. Roy Greenslade, Professor of Journalism at City University London, questioned Trinity Mirror’s choice of title. The New Day is certainly eye-catching and symbolic, but it is difficult to imagine it offering anything radical to what is currently available. Questions still to be answered about it include who will be its target audience, what content it will publish, and how the competition will react to it, for there is a chance it will kick off another price war with rivals.
What does this mean for Print Media?
In some circles, the Independent’s online transition has been lauded, with a seemingly romantic idea emerging, in which the paper will make a smooth transition online, in a business as usual manner. However, others have warned not to expect such an easy ride. Jane Martinson noted how the Independent was late to the online market, and has since struggled to break the stranglehold other companies have on the digital market. Peter Preston wrote an even more scathing opinion on the news. From a financial perspective, he argued the newspaper lacked stability, and was being saved by the i, which was foolishly sold.
While the closure of the Independent is a blow for print media, the fight is not over. Johnson Press’s purchase of the i, alongside the upcoming launch of the New Day, is evidence of the continuing demand for print media, and it still retains some key advantages over its online competition.
At its most basic level, Greenslade identified the gulf in print and online advertising rates as being a reason why print media still has a fight left in it. He optimistically pointed out that “there remains a public appetite for newspapers as long as they are properly targeted at a specific audience, appropriately distributed and cheaply priced.” Nevertheless, for Greenslade, the problem facing all the newspapers and their owners into the future is a clear one. They must persuade the “digital natives”, all those under 25, to buy newspapers.
- Cian Carton, News Editor
This article originally appeared in Volume 29, Issue 9. Published February 29th 2016.