A daily bulletin of news & opinion

26 October 2010

This morning Britain awoke to something it hasn’t had in nearly 25 years – a new quality national daily newspaper.

The launch of the colourful and funky i, a 56-page weekday paper costing a mere 20p, is nothing to do with Apple, nor the Portuguese news digest of the same name, but represents an ambitious play by a national newspaper to attract the fickle internet-loving generation.

The paper is a truncated version of The Independent, Britain’s most academic (and smallest circulating) national newspaper, which since March has been owned by billionaire Russian oligarch and former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev and his socialite son Evgeny.

The new paper’s mission: to attract new and lapsed readers who think British papers are too expensive and too bulky. It has not gone the other route media analysts have predicted – ditching the light in favour of more analysis in the belief this is the one thing the web is not good at.

“Newspapers are really run by journalists in most cases, and they have a love for the content. You can’t blame them for that, but there’s just too much,” says The Independent‘s managing director Andrew Mullins. He describes i as a “line extension” of The Independent, an innovation that will create two market segments: “The Sunday roast and the Pret-A-Manger sandwich.” The colourful, funky design is brimming with fact boxes; no news story will exceed 400 words. Headlines on issue 1 include “Is Bert gay?” and “Mel’s Hell: Is there a way back for the superstar in limbo?” More serious, less flashy stories get bigger exposure inside, and the editors are not afraid to give a full page to a star writer, such as Johann Hari on Obama on page 13. It’s a strong concept.

“That’s the real skill, you turn over 10 pages and you feel like you know what’s going on,” says Mullins.

The launch comes barely a year after the massive failure of two London afternoon freesheets, victims of an advertising rate war and the recession.

“I don’t think that anyone should be blasé about this and say ‘it’s only the Indy again’. For all that is said about the Indy it has always led the way with innovation,” says Vanessa Clifford, managing partner of media buying agency Mindshare.

When The Independent launched in 1986 as a non-aligned broadsheet its popularity turned rivals on their heads. Under editor-in-chief Simon Kelner’s 12-year leadership the paper turned decidedly left wing with signature “viewspaper” front pages railing against the Iraq war. Kelner turned the broadsheet paper compact in 2003, again forcing rivals to react.

Lebedev, famous for teaming his business suits with sneakers and who tweets in Cyrillic text, bought the afternoon London Evening Standard last year and made it free. It distributes 700,000 copies and advertisers queue to get into it. Some media buyers think I should have gone down the same path. “I think it is a great product and there’s definitely a gap in the market for it,” says Claudine Collins, press director of media agency MediaCom. “But they are mad to be charging any money for it, they should have been going free.”


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