UK's 'Independent' Closes Print Edition

One of Britain’s better known, if not biggest, newspapers is going digital-only.

The Independent will cease publishing its print edition in March, but will continue publishing on its Web site and a new app, according to publisher ESI Media, which announced the news on Friday. The move to digital-only publishing will entail an unspecified number of layoffs.

Founded in 1986 to compete with The Guardian and as a counterweight to conservative newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch, the center-left Independent had achieved a print circulation of over 400,000 by 1989. But that number has steadily eroded as readers have migrated to digital media.

Today, the newspaper’s average weekday edition is around 58,000.

Conversely, the newspaper’s Web site has seen traffic surge, with the total number of unique visitors increasing by a third over the last year to 70 million per month. Advertising revenue is set to increase 50% this year.

The shift to digital will create 25 new positions; the newspaper is also launching a new subscription mobile app.

On the business side, the last decade has been eventful for The Independent. After transitioning from broadsheet to tabloid format in 2003, the newspaper was acquired by Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev in 2010. Two years ago, Evgeny Lebedev, the billionaire’ son, said he would be open to selling the newspaper, but wasn’t actively looking for buyers.

While it’s probably not much comfort, The Independent is hardly alone in its woes, as other British newspapers struggle to reinvent themselves.

While no one has mentioned closing the print edition, The Telegraph has hired outside consultants Deloitte to consider options, which may include a selloff or redundancies. In January, The Guardian revealed it plans to slash costs by around 20% in order to “safeguard” the newspaper’s future, requiring layoffs.

On a positive note, growing U.S. traffic has been a bright spot for some British newspapers.

The Daily Mail recently revealed that 40% of the total monthly audience of 212 million unique visitors to Mail Online comes from the U.S. -- a larger figure than it gets from its home audiences, which contributed 35% of the total. And the Guardian announced that its U.S. readership had grown 30% year-over-year to 30.2 million in September, representing over a third of the company’s total global audience, while revenue increased 80%.

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