Lebedev has just bought The Independent and Independent on Sunday from Independent News & Media for £1 and speculation is rife as to his strategy to restore the fortunes of the titles.
Lebedev bought The Evening Standard last year and turned it into a free newspaper. However, press buyers believe that the cover price of The Independent brings in too much revenue to suddenly switch model to rely purely on advertising sales.
Vanessa Clifford, head of press at Mindshare, says: “Although there is a view that the Indy will follow the Standard down the free route I think this is unlikely in the short term, the Standard had a ready made distribution model and the advantage of a London based circulation, the logistics of moving a national paid for, at albeit small circs, to free are considerably more complex.”
The consensus is that there is likely to be cover price cutting to encourage sampling. Neil Allen, press trading director at SMG, says: “Lebedev could look to initially promote it and price cut – price cutting can work in the quality market. In the short term he is going to have to invest in the product. He did invest in the Standard.”
Observers agree that the most pressing problem is the Independent on Sunday, which has seen average net circulation plummet. Year on year it was down 9.84% for the period September 2009 to February 2020 to 155,661. Allen says: “It’s much more difficult problem to turn around” and points to the marketing muscle of The Sunday Times and The Sunday Telegraph, alongside the relaunch of The Observer, as hard to challenge.
Clifford says: “I think the most likely move we will see is the closure of the Sunday or rather the move to a weekend product focused on comment and round up complimented with a couple of supplements.
The newspaper has to come back onto the radar of press buyers and while there is agreement that there is specific type if Indy reader who can be useful to advertisers “every year, there’s less and less of them.”
Clifford says: ” It will be interesting to see the editorial direction the title takes. At times I think it’s taken its ’independence’ too far so that it can appear to the broad newspaper reading audience out there to be out of kilter with other newspapers and whilst a point of difference should be applauded, when that difference puts you so far away from competitors it can become a hindrance.”