The new “i”: a launch against the odds

The spin from the parent paper, The Independent, has been that the arrival of “i” is the first national newspaper launch in Britain for 25 years.

Except that it’s not mostly new. i’s staff of ten are repackaging the content of The Independent: smaller paper, chunkier mid-market design, more pictures, shorter stories, tweet-sized fragments of “commentary” and the dull stuff (politics, economics) taken out or truncated.

But will it work? For a survey of opinion see here (UK-centric) and here (European dimension); for an optimistic take, see Dominic Ponsford here. The best argument for launching such a paper in a declining daily print market is that the readers of the free Metro find the paper so unsatisfying that they will shell out the 20p for a nicer class of quick read. But I doubt that it’ll work. I was wrong about the Evening Standard going free, thinking that sums would not add up. But that move, under Lebedev family management, seems to have worked.

So here is a cautious list of reservations about i.

  • Is there really a market space between the convenience of free Metro and the younger reader who might pay more for the full version of the Independent? The publishers say that a circulation of 200,000 will do, but is this new seam of potential new buyers even that large?
  • It’s early days, but i seems to lack the editorial personality to carve a large enough niche. It has more character than Metro certainly. But is that enough?
  • Is this an investment that makes sense when the pivotal issues in nnews are about finding sustainable ways of making digital journalism pay?
  • The claims for i that it has “quality, convenience and desirability” aren’t silly. But in the context of a shrinking daily print market, paywalls and digital competition does it have enough of those things to bend the trend?
  • If i succeeds in discovering a large audience dissatisfied with Metro but wanting a speed-read, that will presumably spell the death of the original Independent.

But I wish i luck all the same.

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