FORUM: Has the latest Indie revamp set realistic targets? - Relaunches of the Independent seem to come round with monotonous regularity. Apparently this one, though, will be different. Under its new owners, the newspaper is now set to re-acquire the high

In October 1988, the British Library dropped the Times and started taking the Independent as its paper of record. It seems almost unbelievable now, but for the Independent’s founders the announcement - which came two years almost to the day after the paper’s launch - was a vindication of their vision. This was what they’d set out to achieve.

In October 1988, the British Library dropped the Times and started

taking the Independent as its paper of record. It seems almost

unbelievable now, but for the Independent’s founders the announcement -

which came two years almost to the day after the paper’s launch - was a

vindication of their vision. This was what they’d set out to


But ten years is a long time in the newspaper business and the last

decade has not exactly been kind to the Independent. It goes without

saying that it is no longer the library’s paper of record. As the title

fell into the hands of the Mirror Group, draconian budget cuts became

almost routine, crisis followed crisis, and the title’s uncompromising

positioning as an intelligent, upmarket broadsheet (no gratuitous royal

stories, lots of foreign coverage, no yah-boo political mudslinging, for

instance) all but evaporated.

In recent memory, the Indie has attracted attention only as a comic yet

sad travesty of a once noble ideal. It’s the Lord Sutch meets Prince

Charles of serious journalism. Recently it has flirted with

whale-hugging, cannabis campaigns and pink politics.

Flirted - and then run away.

The paper has taken the art of short-termism to new heights. In fact, it

has had more editors than Man City has had managers - and to the same

purpose. Its circulation has dwindled to just over 200,000. And in the

reign of each new editor, at least one relaunch. We’ve lost count


The most recent, should you have missed it, arrived last week. It’s not

a relaunch, they say, it’s a new look. This one, they tell us, is


No - really. The paper is under new ownership for a start and Tony

O’Reilly’s Independent Newspapers has a pretty enviable track record

around the globe when it comes to quality broadsheets.

This relaunch takes us back to the future, its aim is to restore the

original. The Independent truly intends once more to become an

intelligent, upmarket broadsheet. All that unnerving white space has

been replaced by satisfyingly meaty slabs of copy. It has a grown-up

news agenda and the pagination to pursue it. The yardstick for success

is relatively modest - to lift circulation to 250,000.

Have they got it right this time, both in theory and in practice? The

circulation target may be eminently achievable, but is it of any value

whatsoever in the advertising market?

Over the years, one of the Independent’s sternest critics has been

Stephen Glover, an original founder of the paper and now a columnist for

the Spectator and the Evening Standard. He gives a cautious welcome to

the return of the old Independent.

’Its problem recently was that it looked superfluous. At last it looks


’There has always been an opportunity for an authoritative upmarket

newspaper - a direct rival to the Times - if anyone was brave enough to

seize it. But it’s not just about the right format and the right

sections. It’s down to quality.’

Glover points out that the relaunch - with its increase in the amount of

space to fill - has stretched limited resources. A lot of photographs

were clearly blown up too big and there were some features in there that

had obviously been lurking on the hard drives of editorial computers for

months, if not years.

Many other commentators agree. Last week an incredible number of howlers

proliferated across the main news pages (front and back) and there was

some atrocious writing and subbing. For instance, if it’s going to cover

the World Cup, it’s going to have to hire a couple of journalists who

know a thing or two about football. (Note to Indie subs: it’s Gordon

Durie not Drurie. And yes, it does matter.)

But what does the advertising market think - not just of the new

product, but of the revised targets? Indie executives reportedly believe

that if they attract the right readership, ad space will command a

premium. Tim Kirkman, the head of press at Carat, thinks they’re kidding


’A circulation of 250,000 would give it a niche market within the

national newspaper arena, especially if it can attract light TV

watching, upmarket, young readers. So yes, we support the paper’s

strategy. But it has to remember that essentially this is a commodity

market. The numbers do matter. No-one can prove their readers are better

consumers than other readers. We’ll give it the benefit of the doubt,

but only for six months. Let’s see if they can get more people trialling

it again.’

Tim McCloskey, the deputy managing director of BMP Optimum, believes

that the industry lost patience ages ago. ’Each time they present a

relaunch, we tend to ask how much this one will cost in terms of lost


My own view is that the paper doesn’t deserve to be in the position it’s

in. It is not an awful product - but you can’t get away from the fact

that it’s propping up the rest of the market.

’Yes, I’d like to see it get its badge status back again, yes I’d like

to see it attempt once more to be a paper of record. Yes, I think

there’s an opportunity there. But the one thing above all else that the

advertising business wants to see is it improving its sales


Bob Offen, chief executive of Mediapolis, reveals that he was an

intermittent Indie reader who recently became a lapsed one. ’This

relaunch appears to have addressed a lot of the problems I’ve had with

it - its lack of content. It’s a good start. What they have to do now is

sustain it and you have to question whether there are the resources. The

paper’s problems haven’t been about strategy, style, tone or the quality

of its editors. None of them have been stupid. They’ve just never had

the resources to do the job properly.’

Offen argues that if it manages to retain the high ground, it stands a

chance of becoming a badge publication again - though it will take a

long time for that badge to be polished up. ’You just worry if it can

sustain the effort against rivals that have more resources. And though

it’s true that 250,000 is achievable, it won’t be easy. But we have a

natural sympathy for the underdog and in this industry we get excited

about signs of growth or decline. If it can show the slightest revival,

I suspect it will attract a lot of support.’


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