Independent and Independent on Sunday print closures confirmed

Owner Evgeny Lebedev says last print editions of newspapers will appear in late March as i title sold to Johnston Press

Evgeny Lebedev has confirmed that the Independent and Independent on Sunday will cease printing, with the last editions to be published in late March.

Lebedev, who also confirmed the sale of the cut-price national stablemate i to Johnston Press, did not reveal how many of the 150 full-time staff would lose their jobs.

Including regular casual staff it is thought that at this stage there will be about 111 redundancies, although this could change.

The overall number that end out losing their jobs could be ameliorated as 25 new roles are being created to boost independent.co.uk, and the i’s new owner is seeking 34 more staff.

The last issue of the Independent is expected to be published on 26 March, with the last issue of the Independent on Sunday on 20 March.

Amol Rajan, the editor of the Independent, will take the role of editor-at-large across the new digitally focused Independent business.

At a staff meeting, which was not attended by Lebedev but included Indy co-founder Andreas Whittam Smith, Rajan said that it was a “painful day” but it was not economically viable to keep running the Indy print operation.

“The Independent’s journalism has never been more loved or respected but the costs cannot be sustained,” he reportedly said. “The Independent will prove critics wrong again on the road ahead”.

Lebedev attempted to position the closure of the 30-year old Independent as a bold transition to a digital-only future.

“The newspaper industry is changing, and that change is being driven by readers,” said Lebedev. “They’re showing us that the future is digital. This decision preserves the Independent brand and allows us to continue to invest in the high quality editorial content that is attracting more and more readers to our online platforms.”

He said his family has invested heavily in its British media assets – well over £100m up until the end of September 2014, £65m of that on the Independent titles – and that the digital transition would secure the title’s future.

“The Independent has always been a pioneering newspaper with a track record of innovation,” he said. “It has a proud heritage as Britain’s first truly independent national quality title. My family bought and invested heavily in the Independent because we believe in world-class quality journalism, and this move secures the future of these vitally important editorial values.”

The publisher said that newspaper’s website, which has 58 million monthly readers, is already profitable and is expected to see revenues grow 50% this year.

ESI Media, the parent company of the titles as well as of the Evening Standard and TV station London Live, said that it will create 25 new digital content roles in the first move to focus on building independent.co.uk into an international digital news brand.

The publisher said that it will also launch a new version of its subscription mobile app which charges readers outside the UK, and keep control of the i100.co.uk, which is focused on younger readers.

“Following this decisive move to digital, we will be as focused and uncompromised as any start-up, but with all the authority and trust of an established newsbrand,” said Steve Auckland, group chief executive at ESI. “We now have a clear and secure future path for our businesses. We have global ambitions for the Independent and a London powerhouse with the Standard. We want to really take advantage of that now.”

Auckland added that talks would now begin to win over star writers such as Robert Fisk and Matthew Norman to continue to write for the digital-only Independent.

He also said that the website’s lightweight editorial approach, criticised by some of its own staff as a “click-bait operation”, would be re-focused to better match the quality tone of the print edition.

Lebedev said that the business will continue to “invest in quality journalism” opening new editorial bureaux in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, as well as an expansion of the US operation.

“The online version faces almost as tough a task in competing with the excellent online offerings of other established news organisations,” said Charlie Beckett, director of the London School of Economics’s Polis journalism think-tank. “As well as the new digital kids on the block such as BuzzFeed and Politico and the international news brands such as the New York Times that are edging into the UK market.”

The 17 editorial staff at the i will move to Johnston Press, the owner of the Scotsman which has acquired the title for £25m, under employment law.

Oliver Duff, the editor of the i, tweeted that the 40p newspaper would now expand to 51 staff in total.

Significant recruitment to new i editorial team over coming weeks. Appointments to 51 roles (2/4)

— Oly Duff (@olyduff) February 12, 2016

As part of the deal the i staff will remain located in their current office in Derry Street, London, as Johnston Press only has corporate offices in the capital.

Johnston Press has also struck a three-year deal to licence content for the i from the Indy website and Evening Standard, at a cost of £850,000 annually.

The publisher says it has plans to expand the i into Northern Ireland, launch its own dedicated website, and boost sales through better distribution.

The company said that the closure of the titles has “no bearing” on the status of the Evening Standard, which is 25% owned by Daily Mail parent DMGT, which “continues as a profitable and successful newspaper brand in its own right”.

The publisher said that the Evening Standard made a profit of £5m last year.

“The closure of the Independent is a recognition of the harsh realities of the UK national newspaper market where there are now probably too many titles operating in a hyper-competitive market where new digital competition for people’s attention has combined with a collapse in advertising revenue,” said Beckett. “The Independent was financially unsustainable. Any loss of plurality is to be regretted, especially losing a paper with a history of editorial innovation and integrity.”

Contributor

Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

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