X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Features

Farewell, Independent on Sunday

One of the founders of the Independent on Sunday mourns its demise

16 February 2013

9:00 AM

16 February 2013

9:00 AM

On Tuesday the Culture Secretary Maria Miller announced to a breathless world the latest development in the Leveson saga. The government wants a royal charter to oversee a new press watchdog. I say ‘the government’, but the Liberal Democrats are only half on board. Like Labour, they seem still to hanker after some sort of statute to set Leveson in stone. As for Hacked Off, the celebrity-backed pressure group that has campaigned for greater press regulation, it will settle for nothing less than a statute, and wants every recommendation made by Lord Justice Leveson to be implemented without delay.

On the day Mrs Miller did her little turn in the Commons, a once successful Sunday newspaper was closed. Almost no one noticed. This may have been because the newspaper in question, the Independent on Sunday, is now selling so few copies (58,809 full-price sales per issue last month) that not many people are likely to get worked up about its demise. It is also true that its closure was not represented as such by its owners (the Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev, and his son Evgeny) or management. A murky and obfuscating statement was issued such as might have emerged from an ailing Soviet tractor factory with production problems in the days when Alexander Lebedev was serving as a young KGB officer. There would be ‘a programme that commences a complete restructuring of the way we intend to create and publish our content’.

The Independent on Sunday will admittedly continue in name. That is to say, there will be a seventh-day version of the Independent. But it will have no staff of its own, and no editor. Bean counters have long advocated sharing journalists on Sunday and daily titles to save costs, but this is not so much an integration as an annihilation. The plucky little Sindy, which I helped to found 23 years ago, is no more. Its editor of five years, the admirable John Mullin, who conjured up a spirited and strikingly original Sunday newspaper out of almost non-existent resources, is to be replaced by the Independent’s editor, Chis Blackhurst, nicknamed ‘Baldemort’ by his fans because of his alleged physical resemblance to J.K. Rowling’s fictional baddie, Lord Voldemort.

[Alt-Text]


It is tempting to tease the Lebedevs, though one should not go too far. They are unquestionably a colourful pair. Alexander, allegedly a billionaire, is awaiting trial in Russia on a charge of hooliganism. (He biffed an annoying businessman during a television programme.) Evgeny, chairman of the Independent titles and the London Evening Standard, is an earnest and intelligent young man. Some of his counterparts in Fleet Street may think that he knows no more about newspapers than they do about tractor factories, but he is learning. Besides, he has a very able managing director called Andrew Mullins. The Lebedevs have sunk some £80 million in their British newspapers over four years, and brought the once heavily loss-making Standard to break-even after making it free. But the Indy and Sindy continue to lose bucketfuls of money — probably around £18 million a year — hence the killing off of the Sunday title.

So one can’t really blame them. Whether they can now save the Independent is an open question. Its real daily sale is not much over 50,000. It’s quite a good paper, with lots of good writers, but fewer and fewer people want to read it. By contrast, i — a boiled-down version of the Indy that sells at 20 pence — is a circulation success, selling more than four times as many copies. The London Evening Standard looks like a commercial proposition, and might even be saleable. (Some on the Independent claim that their paper bears a disproportionate amount of the giveaway’s costs.) Alexander Lebedev was recently quoted as saying that his British operation will return a net profit of ‘between £12 and £18 million in two and a half years’. It sounds a fantastically implausible figure. He is evidently placing a lot of faith in his as yet unlaunched London Live local TV channel, which aims to put the Standard’s journalists on the capital’s television screens — potentially a recipe for disaster in the light of similar past experiments. I’d say the rocky road continues to stretch ahead.

What has happened to the dear old Sindy is being copied only slightly less dramatically throughout Fleet Street. The assassin of the News of the World, Rupert Murdoch, will integrate the Times and Sunday Times as soon as he can persuade the former’s so-called independent directors that such a move would not negate his 1981 undertaking to maintain the two newspapers as separate titles. The Daily and Sunday Mirror have recently merged to save costs. The upshot is that we have fewer, and weaker, papers. Meanwhile the Guardian racks up losses which make the Independent’s look like small change. It has a fighting fund in the shape of a 50 per cent stake in Auto Trader, the classified car advertising business, though it was recently unable to off-load this at the price it had sought.

I don’t imagine that everyone will share my grief at the loss of the Sindy as a separate title. But it is surely clear that where it has gone, others will inevitably follow, possibly quite soon. That is why I could only work up moderate interest in Maria Miller’s statement on Tuesday. The important news of the day was the effective demise of a national newspaper which in its heyday sold over 400,000 copies. This obsession with Leveson is a kind of madness. Of course, Leveson and his camp followers played no part in the death of the Independent on Sunday. But while a collection of self-serving celebrities, newspaper-hating politicians, well-intentioned do-gooders and general half-wits are obsessing about regulating the press, the monster which they say they want to tame is gasping for breath, and slowly dying. The amazing thing is that they appear not to have noticed. Or perhaps they simply don’t care.

Stephen Glover is a columnist on the Daily Mail.

Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.


Show comments
Close