You only have to look at the currently calamitous quality national newspaper circulation figures to see how sensitive newspapers are to price fluctuations – particularly at the top end of the market.
Charging £1 a copy for newspapers that contain much less advertising, so are much thinner than they were a few years ago, is not a recipe for circulation success. And the last time we had a quality daily, the 20p Times during the circulation war of the late Nineties, sales soared through the roof.
So the Independent’s condensed stablemate i should have a major impact on the market.
It provided me with more than enough reading to fill my 20-minute commute into central London. I’d guess that it would take 40-minutes to read from cover to cover, so presents exceptional value.
Aimed at the “time-poor” it claims to target lapsed newspaper readers in general, but it clearly has a much younger slant than its quality competitors. The Guardian woos the young with its separate features section, as does The Times, but as a new launch the i can afford to be unashamedly youthful from front to back.
Thus the splash today is about the young being priced out of the housing market and the treatment of news and features throughout is much more colourful and informal than The Independent proper and the other ‘qualities’.
It’s not beefy enough to provide a real substitute for the £1-a-copy papers at the top end of the market, but far more serious than the red-tops and should appeal to those who are yet to see themselves as middle-England Mail and Express readers.
In short i has found a neat slot in the market.
Young people hoover up free copies of Metro and the Evening Standard, and previously fell upon thelondonpaper and London Lite. There is no question that they like reading newspapers, they just come from a generation which seems reluctant in the extreme to pay for their information (or for music for that matter).
The big question is whether they can be tempted to pay 20p for ‘I’ and even if they do, whether this can be sustainable financially for the publisher.
Who knows what Indy owner Alexander Lebedev’s wider game-plan is. Or even whether, as a billionare already, his agenda really is making even more money.
Independent managing director Andrew Mullins has indicated that a circulation of 200,000 a day would be sustainable for i.
That would leave,maybe 100,000 ‘top people’ still paying £1 a day for the full-fat Independent and another 700,000 a day picking up a free copy of the Lebedev-owned Evening Standard.
That would give the former KGB man a pretty impressive portfolio circulation of one million a day for his ad-sales people to sell across.
The i has a dedicated editorial team of just ten, with a further ten staff deputed from The Independent to work across it.
With costs that low and a readership across the portfolio comprising well-off Londoners, the hard-to-reach young and independent opinion-former types – it sounds like a compelling and profitable proposition.
And if i persuades the internet generation to finally start paying for some of their information – Lebedev will have done the whole UK journalism industry a great service.
I asked former Independent associate editor (design) Michael Crozier what he thought about the new paper.
Here’s what he had to day:
“I like i. 56 pages for 20p, less than 1/2p per page. It’s great value in these straitened times for a new newspaper that revives The Independent’s philosophy of innovation.
“The paper is a far more entertaining and informative read than Metro and leaves most of the the gravitas to its big brother. The aim is to expand the marketplace by picking up lapsed, or new, young readers. If the distribution, marketing and editing is right, it may just do it. Certainly, advertising/editorial ratio was high but you would expect that in a launch issue.
“Shared editorial services (in this case a direct feed from The Indy) are an unstoppable aspect of modern journalism. But i ‘does have its own identity. The design is modern and iconic – the curvy boxes and index skylines across the top of pages instantly evoke the layout of the iPhone and iPad. This should resonate with its finger-tapping and thumb-scrolling target audience.
“One cavil though: the front page with a dominant image of toy town houses had little visual, attention-grabbing impact on the newsstand. Early days!”