The I Paper may be a new idea, but it seems to be failing pretty fast. The Guardian reports today that sales of the Independent’s new 20p daily have fallen over half in the month since launching. It is obviously still early but the figures suggest that the Indy’s gamble may not be paying off. The reason? It’s too expensive…
That may sound odd about a paper that costs 20p but for me the owner Alexander Lebedevev missed a trick in deciding to charge for the paper. If they are selling only 70,000 papers a day the revenue gained comes to only £14,000 a day. This will not nearly cover their distribution costs.
There are two reasons why I think he didn’t make it free. Both these reasons are ridiculous.
Firstly it is a brave man that makes competition for himself. If the I had gone free, the common logic goes, it would have clashed with the Standard, a paper that is just returning to profit for the first time in years and which is also owned by Lebedev.
But that is not strictly the case. The paper comes out every morning, the Standard is still published in the evening. The Indy would actually have been in direct competition with The Metro, part of the Associated Newspapers group. This direct competition could have killed off the Metro and given Lebedev a complete stranglehold on the free newspaper market.
Secondly there was strong resistance from the Independent’s editors and journalists about giving away their content for free. I think this is something that journalists have to get over. I accept that it is not ideal to give away good quality journalism with great writers like Johann Hari inside. But those are the sad facts about the business that we are working in.
The reason the Standard going free is so profitable is because it gets access to a whole new market of predominantly younger people who don’t buy newspapers normally. This makes the paper a useful advertising space for all kinds of companies that don’t normally advertise in papers and thus brings it back into profit. The I paper could have done that but by charging 20p it means that the only people likely to pick it up are people who already read papers, a dwindling demographic.
I genuinely think the I is a good idea, but it has to go free to have a future.