LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Independent is to disappear from news stands next month after its owner took the left-leaning title online only, one of the first national newspapers in the world to buckle under pressure from the internet.
Launched by a group of journalists in 1986 with the slogan “Independent, it is - are you?”, the Indy built a high-minded reputation by pursuing often radically different stories from rivals, with a heavy focus on international news.
While other titles splashed popular fare like weddings, births and deaths of the royal family, the Independent focused on wars in the middle east and developments in science. Rather than pick sides within the highly partisan British political culture, it sought to remain non-aligned.
In its 1990s heyday it briefly sold more copies than Rupert Murdoch’s Times newspaper, but from a peak of around 400,000 copies a day then, circulation has fallen to little more than one-tenth of that figure today despite innovations like moving to a tabloid from broadsheet format.
“It is quite clear that the digital revolution is eating our news print industry and it’s just a matter of time before it swallows the lot whole,” Roy Greenslade, a former editor of the Daily Mirror and media commentator, told Reuters.
The Independent was bought by Russian billionaire and former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev for 1 pound in 2010. The pressures that have grown since are being felt in newsrooms around the world.
Just last month, the Guardian newspaper set out plans to cut running costs by 20 percent after its strategy of building one of the most popular websites in the world failed to make up for falling print sales. In America such storied titles as the New York Times are desperately slashing costs and seeking to grow digital subscribers.
But few media organizations have managed to achieve the right balance as big brands pay less to advertise online than they would in a newspaper, and pay even less again to advertise on mobile sites, where many people now access their news.
Many media organizations, witnessing the rapid growth of websites like Buzzfeed, have turned to so-called clickbait news with its often teasing headlines, designed to draw as many readers as possible to boost advertising sales.
In order to broaden its appeal, the Independent had launched a profitable, smaller sister title the “i”, which it has agreed to sell to regional owner Johnston Press.
The Independent’s last paper edition is expected to be on Saturday March 26 with the last Independent on Sunday on the preceding Sunday March 20.
“This decision preserves the Independent brand and allows us to continue to invest in the high quality editorial content that is attracting more and more readers to our online platforms,” said Evgeny Lebedev, Alexander’s son, in a statement on Friday.
ESI Media, Lebedev’s commercial division, said it would create 25 new digital content roles, launch a new subscription mobile App and continue to invest in quality journalism.
“It is sad but inevitable,” said Greenslade. “Its sales had fallen so low and no one can sustain a national paper on that basis.”
Additional reporting by Rahul B in Bengaluru, editing by Stephen Addison