A, much, younger colleague was discussing the Daily Mail newspaper with her even younger sister and the conversation got round to the fact Mail Online is the online relation of the Daily Mail. It turned out the youngest sister, aged 18, had no idea that Mail Online had a print equivalent!
It’s a sign of the times and perhaps indicates that in a generation or two print newspapers will cease to exist.
Indeed, the journey is underway.
Last Sunday saw the last print edition of the Independent on Sunday and this Saturday will be the last for the print edition of the Independent. For advertisers and media people like us who’ve seen the ongoing relentless fall in print circulation figures over the past decade, and beyond, the demise of the print edition of the Indy was only a matter of time, but the news when it came last month was still a shock. For the Independent’s fellow newspapers, it was like a death in the family.
I was a green twenty-six-year-old Glasgow Herald – sadly now a faint shadow of its former self – reader back in 1986 when the Independent burst on the scene.
Its launch was founded on a classic marketing principle: the correct identification of a profitable gap in the market. The new title would be aimed at a growing educated, younger audience peeved by the partisan press of their parents and for whom the alternative Guardian was just too sober and perhaps too left wing. Enter a refreshing new newspaper led by its redoubtable editor Andreas Whittam Smith and an advertising campaign that was one of the eighties’ greats: “The Independent. It is. Are you?”
And independent it was standing alone, except for the Communist Morning Star, by not featuring fawning royal family pictures or stories. Part of its target market, the burgeoning yuppie population of the capital, lapped up its excellent business coverage, led by City Editor, Jeremy Warner who was with the title for 14 years before being claimed by the Telegraph, the paper. They also revelled in being moderately ridiculed in Charles Peattie and Russell Taylor’s cartoon strip Alex, introduced in 1987, featuring the eponymous status addicted and compliance-averse wine bar louche. Alex was a big hit. So much so it was later poached by the Independent’s wealthier rival The Daily Telegraph. Such was to be the fate of many of the Independent’s brilliant team of writers and editors.
I didn’t become a real aficionado of the Independent till the early 1990s by which time its circulation had reached a substantial 400,000. Saturday mornings were a joy, featuring cracking writers like David Aaronovich and Tom Sutcliffe. The Independent also gave birth to Bridget Jones and her diary courtesy of writer Helen Fielding. Its Saturday magazine also featured in the 90s some splendid cookery writing by one of the country’s best, Simon Hopkinson. Sport was not neglected with excellent writers like Brian Vine and Jim White whose pieces were complemented by trend-setting sports photography.
The Independent was initially true to its name and had a travel section where writers paid their way and did not have their travel costs or hotel fees underwritten by the hotels and airlines which their competitors did.
Sadly economics got in the way and in the mid-1990s, the Independent had to forego its worthy travel independence ambition. However its award-winning travel editor, Simon (the man who pays his way) Calder, still refuses the danger of his writing being comprised by the acceptance of hotel and airline ‘freebies’.
As well as its great writers, The Independent was renowned in its early broadsheet years – before the advent of colour print as the norm and the acceptance of serious papers in tabloid format – for its stunning use of great black and white photography.
But the Independent could not defy gravity. Unlike the Times and the Telegraph, it did not ‘benefit’ from an elderly readership to keep it afloat when its younger readers either stopped reading newspapers or went online for their news fixes. Its print circulation had fallen to just 30,000 as its mainly younger readership has gone digital and it’s just old fogies like me that kept the flag flying for the print edition.
Print newspapers are in terminal decline, despite the recent launch of ‘New Day’. For me, there is no alternative on a Saturday morning to the Independent so I will go digital but I suspect it’ll be a less relaxing and absorbing experience. Although the Independent under its editor Amol Rajan is committed to keeping top writers like Calder and Robert Fisk, it’s letting go equally top writers like Personal Finance editor Simon Read because it can’t afford to keep them. I want the Independent’s digital version to succeed but I fear for its future. Print newspapers are on the way out but it’s too early for newspapers to succeed in digital only without the brand cachet of a print equivalent – well, for over 18’s at any rate!