The Independent: An inevitable demise or a phoenix rising?

By March 29, 2016Uncategorized

It might be the dawn of a new day for The Independent, or the start of a new digital adventure writes David Hayward, but which will it be?

This Saturday the Independent will become the first UK national daily newspaper to abandon its print edition and become digital-only.In the ‘no shit Sherlock’ school of thought, this announcement was about as unexpected, as news that bears defecate in the woods and the Pope is Catholic.

We have been talking about who will be the first national paper to go fully online for the past decade.

The fall in print circulation and the rise in digital have made this inevitable. The fact that The Independent is the first UK wide title to go down this route, is no surprise.

At its height the readership was more than 400,000 copies a day, it now sells fewer than 40,000. Newspapers are expensive things to produce and distribute. Such a small circulation, means that business model is simply no longer viable.

The first edition of The Independent in 1986.

The first edition of The Independent in 1986.

A new hope?

But can it survive in the digital-only marketplace. Is it distinctive enough to hold onto an audience? And can the digital revenue sustain the sort of quality journalism associated with the Indy?

There is no doubt it’s going to be very hard. This is a crowded space; legacy press, broadcasters and digital natives all competing for a very demanding audience.

The likes of The Huffington Post, NowThisNews, Vox, Vocativ, AJ+, Vice and BuzzFeed have a massive advantage. They were all set up to operate in the digital landscape.

They are not a failed newspaper with existing staff and structures trying to adapt.

Importantly, they also have video at the heart of everything they do and the Independent doesn’t.

A fragile future

Unsurprisingly the ESI Media the Independent’s parent company was bullish when it announced its decision back in February.

Evgeny Lebedev, owner of The Independent, said:

“The newspaper industry is changing, and that change is being driven by readers. They’re showing us that the future is digital.”

They made great store of the fact the Independent gets 70m monthly unique users.

This sounds very impressive until you consider NowThis News gets a billion video views on social media a month.

Looking at these figures I know whom I’d rather be spending my marketing budget with. Digital revenue and advertising are still relatively small, couple this with the uncertainty over ad-blocking and the future all looks increasingly fragile.

This is clearly a very brave and ambitious move.
It is one that could spectacularly fail, but if it does work, it’s one that could lead the way for the rest of the print industry.

The Guardian, Telegraph and the Times will be watching with great interest.

Back in 2009 Arianna Huffington gave this quote to the New Yorker Magazine.

“People love to talk about the death of newspapers, as if it’s a foregone conclusion. I think that’s ridiculous,” she says.

“Traditional media just need to realise that the online world isn’t the enemy. In fact, it’s the thing that will save them, if they fully embrace it.”

Maybe this is what the Indy is doing. Following her lead might not be the worst thing in the world to do – even if it is seven years later.