The mantra of the modern day big media news organisation has to be innovate or die – and nowhere is this more true than at The Independent.
Last year no-one gave the smallest UK quality newspaper any chance of surviving as it struggled to stem losses (both financial and of circulation) under Independent News and Media.
When Alexander Lebedev threw the Independent titles a lifeline by buying them in March this year one thing was certain – continuing as they had done before was not an option.
When Press Gazette interviewed Indy editor in chief Simon Kelner in May it was pretty clear that there was no plan in place at that time – other than to be radical.
Well here is what they have come up with – a 20p a day scaled-down spin-off edition of The Independent called ‘i’.
Effectively a return to the price war of the 1990s, with a radical twist. Back then quality newspapers were making much more advertising than they are now, but it still cost The Times tens of millions in losses to sell for as little as 20p.
How can such a move work now (when the advertising market has plunged) and if it succeeds, will it spell destruction for The Guardian, Times and Telegraph – which are all currently losing sales at a rate of more than 10 per cent a year?
One thing is certain. Newspapers are extraordinarily price sensitive, and a 20p quality national will have an impact. But it will be in a precarious position.
It has to be considerably better than the bright and breezy news round-up offered by free daily Metro to prise 20p out of punters. But it has to be significantly worse than the Independent, to make dedicated readers of that title still cough up £1.
When the Independent went tabloid in 2003, it first dipped its toe into the market by offering a tabloid version inside the M25 in addition to the old broadsheet mothership.
My money is that the launch of this new 20p a day spin-off is the first stage a transition which could see The Independent go, to be replaced by this new leaner, more fleet of foot of foot incarnation.
The Independent says ‘i’ is aimed at readers of all ages. But the name gives the game away, this is aimed at a younger market – hardly any of whom are currently buying a quality daily newspaper.
Whatever the prevailing wisdom about new digital media, young people still love reading newspapers. They devoured Thelondonpaper and London Lite and still read Metro in their hundreds of thousands.
20p is not a big leap to provide a new product for time-starved commuters who want a deeper read but won’t shell out for The Times, Telegraph or Guardian.
It’s a fantastically bold move and completely unexpected. All eyes now are on Wapping to see if, like 2003, Rupert Murdoch will bring out a spoiler spin-off edition of The Times. It seems unthinkable that even he could afford to drop the price of the Times to 20p in response, but that would remain the nuclear option for him.