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Independent News & Media has finally confirmed it will sell its flagship The Independent, Independent On Sunday and Independent.co.uk to Alexander Lebedev – but don’t expect any significant online changes just yet.
If Lebedev’s London Evening Standard acquisition is anything to go by, then, far from taking the Indy online-only – as has been a common expectation over the last two years – Ledebev is likely to want to reinvigorate the printed edition and leave the web firmly a second-tier medium for now.
The paper’s daily circulation has fallen from 222,106 in January 2000 to 183,547 in February 2010, while web uniques have doubled to 9.5 million a month and 465,346 a day since February 2008.
That’s great – but Independent.co.uk’s web visitors are now unchanged from a year ago, while counterpart sites have made plenty of headway.
Still, former editorial director Jimmy Leach says: “It’s been a miracle on that budget.”
The company doesn’t detail online financials, so we don’t know how well it’s doing. On the content side, Independent.co.uk is amongst the biggest fans of bringing in content through syndication and partnership. That is likely to continue.
Independent.co.uk’s blogs and community are already powered by LiveJournal, whose owner Sup publishes the online-only Gazeta.ru newspaper on behalf of its proprietor Kommersant.
Where the deal leaves Independent.co.uk’s technical capability, we don’t know. Its January 2008 redesign was a re-skin of the site developed for its Irish parent’s stablemate Independent.ie. Now divorcing from The Irish Independent, Independent.co.uk may need to beef up its own know-how.
For an indication, look to Lebedev’s Standard experience. Despite getting a new lick of paint a few months after the paper was acquired, the website still sits uneasily, half-in and half-out of the ThisIsLondon network that was the online hallmark of previous owner Associated Newspapers, with little urgency for change (Standard execs still sign their emails with Associated boilerplates). There’s not yet any talk of pooling resources with the Standard.
But Lebedev had also committed a £25 million three-year investment to the Standard – the kind of money only a Russian billionaire would plough in to news publishing at present.
One thing’s for sure – INM’s UK CEO Ivan Fallon won’t be around to manage the change – he’s retiring with the acquisition.