Evgeny Lebedev said the closure of the Independent titles was “inevitable” and they will be the first “of many leading newspapers to embrace a wholly digital future”.
But the decline of print is far from inevitable, and here is why:
1. The Independent was killed by the launch of cut-price sister title i as much as anything else. It is not overly surprising that a paper which contains much the same journalism for a quarter of the price ended up killing off the mothership. And let’s remember that the i is a profitable print success story, selling more than 200,000 copies a day after launching in 2011, which was probably the worst time in recent history to start a UK national newspaper.
2. Current affairs magazines are doing rather well in print, as the latest ABC figures show: Private Eye has recorded its highest circulation since 1986 (the year The Independent launched) at 229,128. The Spectator recorded the highest circulation in its 188-year history, at 71,707. The Week, New Statesman, Economist and The Oldie are all also growing in print. The New Statesman shows that you can grow in print while also giving your content away for free online. It makes one wonder why the Lebedevs did not keep The Independent alive as a print weekly.
3. While newspapers across the Western world are in print circulation decline, even that is not inevitable. The print circulation of the paywalled Times has been stable over the last four years, and actually gone up when you take into account those paying to read the print edition on their computers.
4. The Lebedevs’ surviving print title, the Evening Standard, looked to be facing certain death when they took it free in 2009. Today it circulates 900,000 copies a day which are grabbed eagerly at major commuter points and it turns a profit. People like reading print. Getting them to pay for it is more difficult.
5. Vogue magazine this month published the largest edition in its 99-year history with 275 pages of ads. A glossy magazine page clearly does something for an advertiser which a mobile phone screen cannot.
6. Empire magazine is another print success story growing 2 per cent to 145,183. Film is an area of interest extremely well catered for online, yet a growing number of people are willing to pay £4.50 a month for a premium print experience.
7. We are told that children are obsessed with technology and will never read newspapers. Yet children's weekly newspaper First News has grown its sale nearly every year since its launch in 2007 and now averages more than 76,000 copies a week. Newsagents shelves groan under the weight of magazines aimed at pre-schoolers.
8. The Big Issue is another news magazine which has bucked trends. Its vendors now compete with a variety of free titles (Shortlist, Stylist and Sport for example – which are all doing well, by the way). Its latest circulation was 78,201 – a paid-for year on year increase as it enters its 25th year.
9. NME since going free has recorded the highest circulation in its 64-year history with more than 300,000 copies a week being picked up. One would have thought that its youthful audience would find all the information they needed about the music world via websites accessed on their phones. But they evidently have an interest in professionally produced print on paper journalism.
10. Metro is another profitable and successful newspaper, circulating more than 1.3m copies a day, which seems to show now discernible decline in readers’ fondness for print (as opposed to their willingness to pay for it).
As the travails of The Guardian (set to lose around £80m this year) and the Telegraph (braced for yet more redundancies) show, these are incredibly tough times for national newspapers.
But at the same time we cannot make glib generalisations about the death of print. A newspaper front-page is far more powerful than a website homepage viewed on a three-inch wide mobile phone screen and it could be that advertisers will begin to realise it.
We should also not over-estimate the impact closing the print edition will have on The Independent's reach as a brand.
According to the National Readership Survey The Independent reaches around 17m readers a month in the UK in print and online. Without the print edition that goes down to 15m.