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What’s to become of the Independent

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 28th April 2009

The Independent, a cornerstone of the British media landscape, is in trouble.

According to a piece in The Times today, the paper’s owner of 11 years, Sir Anthony O’Reilly, is trying to sell the publication. There are apparently a number of options including co-ownership, a merger with a London daily (think Evening Standard), a digital-only edition or even closure.

Why has it come to this? It’s becoming a familiar story:

“The Independent, the fourth-ranked upmarket UK daily, and its Sunday sister title are expected to lose more than £10 million this year. Compounding the newspaper’s woes is the €1.4 billion (£1.24 billion) of debt that is burdening its parent company and a critical €200 million bond that is due to be paid next month.”

Whatever happens, it seems it will be an uphill struggle.

Would the Independent really be able to sustain a digital edition? Gordon Macmillan isn’t sure, and cites an interesting example of Finnish financial daily Taloussanomat – a newspaper that went the same way. Traffic figures significantly dwindled without the print edition to support it. And we all know what that means…

I don’t think the Indie could survive as an online-only publication. Whilst I think that newspapers in printed form are doomed in any case in the future, I think rather than seeing them all move online, we will see casualties. And I fear it will be the titles that have failed to significantly invest online that will fall. The Independent, in my opinion, falls into this category.

Whilst the Guardian, Telegraph, Sun and, increasingly, the Times have all really developed their online offering (still work to do however), the Independent still lags behind.

With the UK’s media increasingly lacking overriding distinctiveness (perhaps driven by the vanilla state of our political scene), there just isn’t enough room (or advertising spend) for all.

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