Independent owners confirm closure in move to digital future

The Independent titles saw digital audiences grow by a third over the past year to 70m unique users. Picture: Getty Images
The Independent titles saw digital audiences grow by a third over the past year to 70m unique users. Picture: Getty Images
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The owners of the Independent and Independent on Sunday newspapers have confirmed the print versions of the titles will close, leaving an online-only edition.

ESI Media said the Independent, launched in 1986, will become “the first national newspaper title to move to a digital-only future”.

The Independent on Sunday will go online only on March 20, with the Independent following on March 26.

The move comes after the papers’ owners Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev agreed a deal to sell its cut-price sister paper i to Johnston Press, publisher of The Scotsman, for around £24 million.

The Independent newspapers are part of the group owned by the Lebedev family, who have other media assets including the Evening Standard and local television station London Live. About 75 jobs are at risk in the wake of the decision to close the print editions, a source said.

ESI Media said the independent.co.uk website has seen its monthly audience grow 33.3 per cent over the past 12 months to nearly 70 million global unique users.

It added the site is profitable and is expected to see revenue growth of 50 per cent this year.

Evgeny Lebedev said: “The newspaper industry is changing, and that change is being driven by readers. This decision preserves the Independent brand and allows us to continue to invest in the high quality editorial content that is attracting more and more readers to our online platforms.”

The Independent was launched by journalists led by Andreas Whittam Smith. It enjoyed initial success rising to a circulation passing 400,000 by 1988, and claimed it was free from proprietorial influence. Early ads featured the famous strapline “It is, are you?”, and its editors included Andrew Marr and Rosie Boycott. The Independent on Sunday launched in 1990, with Stephen Glover as editor.

However, over the years and under different owners the circulation and ad revenues began to shrink as the industry lost readers. In March 2010 ESI Media bought the titles from Irish mogul Sir Anthony O’Reilly for £1.

The Independent’s current paid circulation is just over 40,000 while its Sunday sister title sells just under 43,000 copies.

By contrast the i has a circulation of 275,000 and reported profits of £5.2m last year.