October 29, 2015 at 13:02

Roy Greenslade: Newsprint can thrive as long as it embraces the right innovations

Roy Greenslade: Newsprint can thrive as long as it embraces the right innovations Photo: Getty Images

It is habitual among journalists to call for radical change in every sphere except their own.

They demand that politicians enact new laws, call on businesses to innovate and lecture football managers on the need to adopt new tactics.

When it comes to their own trade, however, most journalists tend to be deeply conservative and hostile to new-fangled ideas.

So it was with the launch of i, the daily newspaper invented as a companion to The Independent.

There was a chorus of scepticism from wiseacres, including myself, who could not conceive of a new title being able to find readers in a declining newsprint market.

Now, with i having celebrated its fifth birthday this week, we sceptics who saw it as a flawed concept must eat humble pie.

The title, at the last count, was selling an average of 277,000 copies a day. Despite its weekday issue having risen in price from its initial 20p to 40p, it has not suffered anything like the rate of decline that continues to afflict the rest of the British national newspaper market.

Although completely different from its sister publication, The Independent, it manages to retain its ethos. And it has proved to be much more popular.

At a regular 56 pages, its lively and informative news digest is leavened with longer-form features, commentaries and columns.

And it has gained a largely youthful audience, one that older papers find so hard to attract.

So hats must be doffed to the triumvirate responsible for its launch, former Independent editor-in-chief Simon Kelner, former group managing director Andy Mullins and, most crucial of all, the financial risk-taker, Evgeny Lebedev, owner of i’s publisher, ESI Media.

In an article about the launch, Lebedev confessed he thought naysayers who believed it was mad to launch a newsprint title in the face of a fast-advancing digital revolution had a point.

But he was convinced that the editorial formula — easy-to-digest quality journalism with comprehensive coverage of the news agenda — and the commercial proposition, a cheap cover price, made such sense he was determined to give it a go.

Launching it in a period of post-recession austerity also proved to be a winner because it offered a “time-poor and cash-poor” populace an affordable, readable product.      

We have become used to the digital call for innovation and tend to overlook the fact that so-called legacy media, as newspapers are witheringly termed nowadays, can benefit from radical change too.

This newspaper, also owned by Lebedev, is a further example.

In 2009, when it was decided to turn the Evening Standard into a free title, plenty of critics — not me this time — scoffed.

In fact, the paper has gone from strength to strength over the past six years. Now, 900,000 copies are distributed every weekday across the capital.

These two 21st-century press experiments illustrate the enduring strength of newsprint.

As long as the editorial offer to the audience is enticing enough, people will read it. They do not have to pay 40p for i and they are not compelled to pick up copies of the Standard.  

They do so because they want to read the content. Us inky journalists can take great heart from that reality. 

Roy Greenslade is Professor of Journalism, City University London, and writes a blog for the Guardian

Tags: The Independent

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