This is not, on the face of it, an ideal time to be launching a new national newspaper. True, the ad market has been easing - but the Chancellor George Osborne's budget cuts, announced last week to sharp intakes of breath, may soon put an end to that. Meanwhile, national newspaper circulations continue to slide as the digital revolution redefines people's news habits.
Ever the optimists, though, The Independent's Russian owners actually see this as an opportunity. The company's new title, snappily entitled i, launched on Tuesday. It is aimed at all potential readers of quality newspapers, more particularly lapsed quality readers.
It hopes to recapture these lost souls by offering what it calls a comprehensive digest of news - offering, in other words, the pithiness pioneered first by free commuter titles such as Metro and then given further legitimacy by the weekly news digest magazine, The Week.
It will offer decent value too, with a coverprice of 20p - and it has a national circulation target of 400,000. The launch coincides with a revamp of The Independent, whose paid-for circulation is now below 100,000, with most of its readers based in and around London.
The new title is, the company freely admits, the first quality newspaper launch in the UK since the last century - a jewel-like factoid that can be interpreted according to taste.
The fact that it is named in honour of the digital revolution's favourite vowel might evoke some sort of a nod towards revolutionary brand values - even though it's still very much beholden to that most medieval of content delivery contraptions, the printing press. There is, to borrow a phrase much beloved of management team-builders everywhere, no i in newspaper.
The biggest question of all, though, is whether advertisers are likely to buy into all of this. Alison Brolls, the head of marketing planning, global marketing services, at Nokia, admits she's rather taken by the whole notion of i - though there are, inevitably, question marks too. She points out that there are lots of free news sources out there - Metro, for instance, and the London Evening Standard - a title, of course, in which The Independent's owner, Alexander Lebedev, has a controlling stake.
Brolls says: "The question is, with so much other free media out there, will the audience be prepared to part with 20 pence, even though this represents a modest outlay?"
Until the paper is awarded its first ABC figure, advertisers using The Independent will have their ads replicated free of charge in the new title - so they can afford to take a long view. But Rob Lynam, the press director at MEC, says that there are good grounds for optimism here. He points out that the average quality newspaper reader is in his or her early fifties, the average Independent reader in their early forties and the average Metro reader in their early thirties.
If the Metro audience can be persuade to trade up slightly, i will be a success, he suggests: "On a 30- minute commute into the office, you're not going to get value from the £1 you'll have paid for the existing qualities. Metro isn't highbrow enough. You'll be able to get through the 56 pages of i on a 30minute commute - and a young upmarket audience may well be prepared to pay 20p. If it does work, there will of course be a danger that it cannibalises The Independent through the week. But on the other hand, it might help deliver an uplift to The Independent on a Saturday and The Independent on Sunday."
And Amy King, the deputy head of press at MPG Media Contacts, maintains that it will probably be a success if the Lebedevs can nail the distribution side of things.
She explains: "While 20p is little for consumers to part with, i will need to ensure potential readers actually make it to newsstand to purchase their copy. The 16- to 34-year-old target audience is more than used to picking up Metro on its way to work, accessing news online through the day and travelling home with the Standard. It will also be interesting to see how other quality titles react to this new addition to the market and whether any new platforms are consequently launched."
However, although Neil Allen, the press trading director Starcom MediaVest Group, agrees that it looks a decent proposition, he's by no means convinced it's going to fly. He concludes: "I'm in two minds. It's interesting to speculate on whether it will attract lapsed quality newspaper readers and people who are dissatisfied with Metro. But it's also interesting to speculate on what The Independent might do next if it fails."
YES - Alison Brolls, head of marketing planning, Nokia
"It's a great idea. There's likely to be a real appetite for something like this. If you look at titles such as The Week, they have done very well by providing a quality digest of the week's news in an easy-to-access way."
YES - Rob Lynam, press director, MEC
"There's a lot of goodwill in the industry. The newspaper industry could do with a success story. I think it will succeed in tapping into the commuter market in the mornings as it offers something that's not already there."
YES - Amy King, deputy head of press, MPG Media Contacts
"It is a bold launch in this age of free news. The format looks exciting and a great way to bring a younger audience back to national press. It offers snapshots and commentary that younger readers are hungry for - more meaty than Metro."
MAYBE - Neil Allen, press trading director, Starcom MediaVest Group
"It's good to see innovation in the press market - but it's a bit early to say. One way or the other, it's encouraging to see that there are people still prepared to invest in the newspaper business. That has to be positive."
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