The Independent's new daily i launches today. Billed as the first quality daily to launch in Britain in 25 years, it aims to provide a full news service "in a way that is fully accessible," Independent deputy editor Adam Leigh told the Editors Weblog. It is not a new paper in terms of content, rather will almost entirely consist of repurposed and repackaged Independent content, presented in a new and more concise format. Media commentator for the Guardian Roy Greenslade described it as "quite simply, a populist alter ego to the Independent."
"Daily briefing is a phrase that we've used a lot while we've been developing it," said Leigh, who will be specifically involved with i, while the Independent's other deputy editor Dan Gledhill focuses on the main edition of the Independent. However, he stressed, it is more than that, it is "a newspaper first and foremost and it will cover a range of different content for a range of moments throughout the day." Many of the news stories near the front of the paper will only be one paragraph long, but throughout the 56-page paper there will also be longer pieces, or "places to pause," as Leigh put it.
"In essence, it's a different way to consume Independent content: a different mechanism for getting the same stuff," said Leigh.
The paper is targeted at people "who have, for a variety of reasons, fallen out of the habit of reading a quality daily every day." It is not specifically targeted at younger people, said Leigh, although many young people are indeed less likely than their parents to read a quality daily each day and therefore comprise some of this target group.
"I is going to be a paper for everyone, we hope, and we would like to think that all readers of all ages, from all professions and all socio-economic groups, would find it interesting," Leigh stressed.
He explained that rather than competing with the other national dailies, with i the Independent is actually trying to expand the market, to recapture those people who feel either that "newspapers have become too unwieldy and contain too much content that they don't have time to get to grips with in their daily lives," or that "they feel that they can't justify the purchase cost of the newspaper." The more concise, affordable i, at 20p, is designed to address both of these issues.
Who's making it happen?
There will be no staff specifically dedicated to writing solely for i, said Leigh. Reporters will file different versions of the same story for the different papers. For example, Leigh said, "if our science editor writes an 800-word story about the genetic modification of salmon for the Independent, he will file a 400-word story at the same time for i." The shorter version may leave out some detail, sources or background, being designed to provide the essential information on the story: "the emphasis is on getting to the point," Leigh said.
Simon Kelner, current editor of the Independent who returned to the position after the paper was purchased by the Lebedevs in March, after a spell as editor-in-chief and managing editor, will edit both papers. I hopes to have the same editorial voice as its sister paper.
A small number of new production staff have been hired, to enable the company to put out two papers each day. The design and layout is very different to that of the Independent, Leigh said, resulting in a unique look and feel. "It challenges many of the ways in which newspaper have traditionally been laid out and constructed," he added.
Apps but no website
The new paper will not have a dedicated website, but any original content that is produced for it will appear on the Independent's site, where the new paper will also be promoted.
Launching a new print product is surely a bold move in today's increasingly digital age, when circulation is falling at quality UK dailies, as it is at papers around the Western world. Leigh believes that "print is still a very convenient and powerful thing," noting that "when there's a major news event, people turn very quickly to print: they want to hold something in their hands."
That said, a subscription-based i iPad app will also be launched in the next couple of weeks, followed by "at least one or two" iPhone products around i, Leigh said.
Will it work? What are the implications for the UK newspaper industry?
Inevitably, comparisons have been drawn with the Portuguese paper of the same name (though different pronunciation and meaning in Portuguese), which launched in spring 2009, also aiming to provide a 'daily briefing' and capture people who haven't been reading newspapers before. Leigh was clear, however, that he hadn't even heard of this paper until very recently, and that the only even vaguely similar paper of which staff were aware during the development process was the RedEye in Chicago: a free daily put out by the Chicago Tribune aimed at the under-35 market.
The Portuguese i, although boasting of early successes, and receiving international acclaim for its innovative design and forward-thinking approach, has been losing a good deal of money, reported the Guardian. Welt Kompact is another paper with a similar aim from Germany's Die Welt, to provide "essential news on politics, business, finance and world events - and the highest standards of journalism - all in a handy tabloid format." NRC next is another, a Dutch daily that targets young well-educated people who have not read newspapers before.
"As the profitability of daily papers has declined, publishers have tried shrinking and distilling the contents, both to lower their costs and try to appeal to younger readers who are time-poor," George Brock, head of journalism at London's City University and former Saturday editor at the Times, commented to the EW. "Portugal's i, Germany's Welt Kompakt and NRC Next in the Netherlands are all examples of this trend. But it's not a big trend and not all the experiments have worked; these isolated cases have not reversed the fall in print readership among younger people in Europe," he continued.
Are most newspapers too full/too big to make sense in today's fragmented media landscape? Do people have time for them any more? If it is really the case that a smaller, more concise product is more relevant for the ever-growing digital generation, and others, then does it make sense to maintain the others?
As Brock said, "I'd guess that if The Independent does succeed with its own "i", the larger, older version of the paper will disappear." The Independent is also undergoing a redesign, presumably to further separate it from its new younger sibling paper.
Although its editors insist it is targeting a new audience, there is a clear risk that i's success could be dependent on its capturing Independent readers. If a substantial number of people start to buy the new paper for 20p rather than the old for £1, this cannot be good news for the company. Greenslade speculates that the new paper is preparation for the not-imminent-but-one-day-inevitable death of the Independent, which has a smaller and falling circulation than other UK quality dailies. Press Gazette's Dominic Ponsford suggests a similar thing.
The Observer's Peter Preston described the new paper as more of a threat than the other quality dailies seem to realise. "Suppose 20p on the morning train in from Beckenham or Blackburn buys you a brisk, intelligent, briefing of a read you can put in the bin when you leave the station. It's a slightly upmarket, marginally more expensive alternative to the ubiquitous Metro. It does the mind-filling job for one-fifth of the £1 the full Indy would cost - solid gold in an era of crunch," he wrote.
Independent owner Alexander Lebedev and his son Evgeny also own London's daily The Evening Standard, which they took free in October 2009. The addition of i to their stable gives them a range of papers with which to experiment: whether or not the new paper succeeds, it is something different and will be an extremely interesting project to watch for the rest of the UK newspaper market.
For more visuals of the first edition of i please see here, courtesy of the Guardian.