PERSPECTIVE: The Independent’s huge leap in sales may be short-lived

September’s newspaper ABCs make fascinating reading - especially as they cover the Diana period. Not surprisingly, it was a cracking month for the nationals. Barring the Star and the Sport, they are all up, with the Independent, which also relaunched on 16 September, achieving one of the biggest rises.

September’s newspaper ABCs make fascinating reading - especially as

they cover the Diana period. Not surprisingly, it was a cracking month

for the nationals. Barring the Star and the Sport, they are all up, with

the Independent, which also relaunched on 16 September, achieving one of

the biggest rises.



Again, not surprisingly, there is much crowing from Canary Wharf about

the paper’s 12 per cent gain, trotting out the usual flannel about the

new ’fresher and sharper’ look and the ’positive reaction’ from

readers.



Yet it may not be all that much to write home about. All the other

qualities recorded significant gains (its closest competitor, the

Guardian, was up 10.6 per cent, the Times 7 per cent, the Financial

Times 5.7 per cent and the Telegraph 4 per cent). On top of that, the

Independent spent heavily on TV and outdoor and upped its bulks from

14,000 in September 1996 to 25,000 last month, all of which takes off

some of the gilt. In this context, talk of a 12 per cent rise should be

prefaced with the word ’only’.



The real test must, therefore, come this month, when we will see whether

the paper can hang on to its increased sale now that the advertising

campaign has been halted.



If the rumours that the editor, Andrew Marr, is increasingly beleaguered

are true, then it may be that October will indeed prove to be a

watershed.



Yet relaunches are always difficult to judge. The more radical they are,

the longer they take to come good - as the Guardian found out in 1988 -

which is why instant punditry should sometimes be avoided. In this case,

the Independent’s latest relaunch (is that six or ten now? I’ve lost

count) was radical with a capital R.



My own view is that it was too radical, even though I could understand

the process by which Marr got there. In fact, all his bold words about

filling the pages with analysis rather than news (which, since news is

labour-intensive and analysis isn’t, is one way of rationalising a cut

in the number of reporting staff) were rendered hollow by the public’s

appetite for news of the Diana tragedy - as evidenced by September’s

sales. The result? An intense, wordy, sanitised paper that looks

forbidding and doesn’t really stand for anything, plus a weedy second

section that looks like a cheap listings handout.



For my part, the problem is crystallised by the front page, the most

daring part of the redesign, which eschews conventional news for an

extended piece of analysis. But by its nature, analysis is cold and

dispassionate - the antithesis of the buzz that newspapers are about and

which makes people buy one paper rather than another.



So, if October does indeed turn out to be a bad month for the

Independent, the paper is faced with a dilemma. Does it relaunch again,

or does it stick with it, increase the ad budget and hope it comes good?

Sounds like a good piece of analysis to me.



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