Digital-only Independent could be an opportunity for the Lebedevs to challenge Guardian and Telegraph

The Independent has always pioneered: from poster front pages, to going tabloid, to launching its cut-price sister title i.

So if it  now it is to go digital-only perhaps that should be seen as the latest stage in a proud tradition.

Insiders are now reconciled to the fact that if the i newspaper is sold to Johnston Press, the print editions of The Independent and Independent on Sunday will be shut down.

Incredibly, they would be the first UK national newspapers, apart from News of the World, to close since Today in 1995.

Some solace can be taken from the fact that i will live on. Although a shadow of The Independent at its peak, the i continues to provide a home for quality journalism free from party political bias.

How it will do that without the heavyweight content provided free of charge from The Independent print edition remains to be seen.

Even if the print editions are to be closed, we should not start talking about The Independent in the past tense. Its website is the fifth most popular national newspaper online with 2.8m unique browser per day.

Depending on how much resources it is given by the Lebedevs, it could present an interesting proposition as the first national newspaper website unencumbered by the inconvenience of having to produce a print edition.

With The Guardian set to cut costs by 20 per cent, and the Telegraph conducting a strategic review expected to lead to deep cuts and a possible sale, there could be an opportunity here for the Lebedevs. While The Times remains strong in print, its paywalled website audience is tiny.

Legacy newspaper titles can never by truly innovative because they cannot risk destroying the thing which still provides most of their revenue: print. A digital-only Independent will not have that problem.

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