Opinion

Newspapers must unite to escape The Indy's fate

My father and mother worked for The Independent. I wrote for the paper from 2011 until the start of last year.

So I feel a good deal of sorrow at its passing in print. I have particular sympathy for as many as 100 former colleagues facing redundancy.

But there is not much room for sentimentality in a newsroom, except when the future of newspapers comes up in conversation. It’s time for the industry to be candid about its problems. There are too many costly paid-for print titles in this shrinking market, there are worrying signs that the ad market is unhealthy and there is not enough collaboration in an industry with too many egos.

No-one wants to kill off print titles, but when The Independent’s weekday paid-for sales sink to 33,400, then it is not surprising that no new owner could be found to save it. The success of i as a profitable spin-off shows print can be viable if it cuts overheads. But in-depth journalism needs investment – a coverprice, a paywall, a subsidy or philanthropy. Advertising alone is a risk.

Going online-only will be challenging for The Independent, with the prospect of digital ad pennies rather than (albeit fast-diminishing) print pounds.

But for those sticking with paid-for print, the ad market hardly looks healthy as circulation slides. National press ad revenues fell 18 per cent in January, according to Nielsen, and that might understate it.

Media buyers talk about a rise in "free space". That’s print advertising that a media owner gives to agencies in return for a commitment to spend a certain volume or share of their clients’ money.

As Campaign revealed in December, the publisher of the Daily Mail gave advertisers and agencies £25.6 million in cash rebates and free space in its last financial year. That equated to about 7 per cent of its ad sales.

DMGT’s rebate numbers got the industry talking because it is virtually unheard of for a media owner to disclose them. It is likely that some news brands with less muscle paid out proportionately more in rebates.

It is easy to see how a media owner’s negotiating position with agencies gets weaker when print ad sales keep falling, especially if online fails to offset the decline.

Greater collaboration and consolidation between media owners to gain scale is the smart response. It doesn’t have to be through mergers, which raise plurality issues. Some publishers already share printing facilities. Why not ad sales too? TV has just three sales houses and two players control more than 80 per cent of commercial radio.

National newspaper brands should put their egos to one side and seek scale through collaboration. Time is running out, as The Independent’s staff can testify.

gideon.spanier@haymarket.com           
@gideonspanier