The future of national newspapers: Surviving on £200,000 a day

The OFT’s decision not to investigate Alexander Lebedev’s acquisition of the Independent and the Independent On Sunday tells us that the newspapers generate revenues of less than £70m a year.

This brings us closer to solving a mystery. For years, the financials of the Indies have been lumped in with a series of other businesses – including the Belfast Telegraph — in the accounts produced by Independent News & Media (INM). It’s been impossible to figure out how well, or how badly, they’re doing.

A decade ago, it was easier. In 2000, for example, the two papers generated revenues of £74.5m, according to documents filed at Companies House. Allowing for inflation, this equates to slightly less than £100m in today’s money.

So now we know that the Independent and the Independent On Sunday generate less revenue in real terms today than they did a decade ago. More to the point, perhaps, they also generate far smaller revenues than any of their rivals.

Last year, Times Newspapers, which publishes the Times and the Sunday Times, turned over £445m. During 2008, the Telegraph Media Group’s publishing operations generated revenues of £343m. In the year to March 2008, Guardian News & Media, which publishes the Guardian and the Observer, turned over £262m.

Nearly 20 years ago, Stephen Glover wrote a book called Paper Dreams, a memoir of his time at the Independent. Glover recorded how he, Matthew Symonds and Andreas Whittam-Smith dreamed of building ‘a billion-pound company”.

The really remarkable thing about the Independent these days is that it manages to survive on less than £70m a year — or £200,000 a day.

That’s testament to the heroic efforts of staff and the patience of INM. But the survival of these newspapers, against all odds, tells us something else.

In a decade’s time, the idea of a national news organisation surviving on this kind of revenue base won’t sound remarkable. In this respect, the Indies represent the future of national newspaper publishing, rather than its past.

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