EDITOR’S COMMENT: Latest incarnation should please the loyal Indie readers

The goodwill out there felt towards the Independent is remarkable.

The goodwill out there felt towards the Independent is

remarkable.



It’s testament to the success of its founder, Andreas Whittam Smith, in

building a genuine brand very quickly. All brands should have such

loyalty - particularly when successive managements have tested it to the

limits by embarking upon a near suicidal series of changes. The last ABC

figure was around 215,000, ostensibly a paltry figure. To my mind, it’s

remarkable so many readers have stayed loyal to a title that had become

a shadow of its former self.



On Tuesday, the latest version of this most mucked-about of newspapers

was unveiled. You could hear the loyal readers groaning in advance.

However, they will be happy with the new product under Simon Kelner’s

editorship.



The effect was immediate. It’s a real newspaper again, punchier and more

accessible. Dropping the tabloid second section has to be a good idea -

not because tabloid sections take the title downmarket but because the

Indie’s tabloid was always going to be a poor relation to the Guardian’s

G2.



However, the kind of treatment the Independent requires doesn’t allow

for a miracle cure. There is as yet little of the ’must read’ about it,

but that will happen as the 20-plus journalists hired in the past month

come aboard. The new-look media section was a disappointment, analysing

stuff that had been dealt with extensively elsewhere (Walkers), and

leaving some of its reasoning for doing regular features in the

stand-firsts. Also, considering the Indie’s current circulation

situation, its attack on the Observer strays into ’being savaged by a

dead sheep’ territory.



But the likeable and plausible Kelner will get it right. What’s more,

Brendan Hopkins, managing director of Independent Newspapers, has set

some pretty soft (his description was ’realistic’) circulation targets:

to get the daily up to 250,000 and the Sunday to 300,000 in three to

five years. It must have a good chance of succeeding. With the Office of

Fair Trading looking at the price-cut situation, it’s the Times’s

circulation that will come under the spotlight. How many of its readers

will stay loyal as the price rises?



If the Independent’s management stays true to its word by not chasing

readers willy-nilly, it might carve out a genuinely lucrative niche for

itself. This will depend on cracking two difficult problems. First, it

must retain its student readers once they move on to work. To do so it

needs to improve both its business and sports coverage. The second

challenge is, perhaps, the biggest of all. It has to get its yields up.

In that area even Hopkins has to concede that the Independent’s rates

have been ’soft’. It will be interesting to see if all the reader

goodwill and positive changes amount to a hill of beans with the media

buying community.



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