The goodwill out there felt towards the Independent is
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
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
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