No-one knows what will happen next at The Independent – perhaps not even its new owner Alexander Lebedev.
But if the recent history of the paper is anything to go buy it will be something new and something radical.
When Simon Kelner was editor he nearly did enough to breathe new life into the Indy by first taking it tabloid in 2003 and then adopting the “viewspaper” approach with concept front pages.
Lebedev’s decision to take the Standard free shows he is not afraid to take a bold gamble.
Independent co-founder Stephen Glover writes with more authority than anyone on this subject.
Today he points out that the Independent that has only made a profit in one or two years since it was founded in 1986. He is under no illusions about the influence a new proprietor will have, stating that “the dream of a profitable, non-partisan newspaper free of proprietorial control” died when Mirror Group Newspapers took control of the title in 1995.
Hitting back at what he sees as the “lordly put-downs” of the Independent which have come from The Times and The Guardian, he notes that the Independent titles’ losses of £12m last year compare with at least £70m at The Times and Guardian/Observer losses of around £30m a year.
Glover believes that the one thing Lebedev cannot do at the Independent is continue with the status quo: “Left alone, the paper will continue to wither, as The Times and The Guardian are continuing to wither, each rather magnificent in its way, but each dangerously, and potentially fatally, far from profitability.”
And he seems to favour price cuts or even going free for the Indy:
“There has been talk of making the paper free in some metropolitan centres and of cutting its cover price as a promotional tool. Both are exciting options, conveying the realisation that things cannot go on as they are. No doubt other radical ideas are necessary.”
Some sort of merger between the Standard and the Independent and some move on the cover price seem to be the most likely options.
A free Independent could be a nightmare for the other quality dailies and do a lot of damageto the long-term profitability of British journalism. But in its own way how different would such a move be to The Guardian’s current refusal to charge for online content?