The Independent will become the first significant British newspaper to shutter its print edition next month, the newspaper's owner confirmed on Friday. ESI Media, which is controlled by Evgeny Lebedev, described the move as a "historic transition," but much of the British press reacted with sadness and/or anger, and social networks like Twitter were filled with eulogies for the newspaper.
A column in the Guardian said that the Independent was "killed by the Internet," but Lebedev said the decision to shut down the paper's print operation was the only possible move the company could make given the decline of print and print-advertising revenue.
"We faced a choice: manage the continued decline of print, or convert the digital foundation we've built into a sustainable, profitable future," Lebedev said in an email to staff. While an unspecified number of employees will lose their jobs, ESI Media said others would be moving to Johnston Press, a regional publisher that is buying some of the company's print assets.
Lebedev also said that the Independent will be investing more in digital and creating 25 new "content roles" for the company, as well a new subscription-based mobile app and new bureaus in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. The company will also be investing more resources in the United States, the ESI Media owner said.
"The Independent has always been a pioneering newspaper with a track record of innovation," said Lebedev. "It has a proud heritage as Britain’s first truly independent national quality title. My family bought and invested heavily in the Independent because we believe in world-class quality journalism, and this move secures the future of these vitally important editorial values."
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According to ESI Media, the Independent website grew its online audience by more than 30% last year and now has about 70 million monthly unique visitors. The site is already profitable, the company said, and expects online revenues to grow by 50% this year. However, not everyone sees the web version of the paper as a high-quality source of journalism.
The Independent was created in 1986 as an alternative to the existing British daily press, and for a time it was a successful business, but as the pressure of a declining print market continued to grow it faded rapidly from a readership of about 400,000 to less than 50,000.
Other British newspapers are also under significant financial pressure, including the Guardian, which said recently that it will have to lay off some of its journalists because of ongoing losses that totalled more than $70 million in 2015.
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Evgeny Lebedev's father Alexander, who also owns the London Evening Standard, bought the Independent in 2010 for the nominal sum of one British pound and the assumption of the company's debts. The family also owns several restaurants and pubs in London. Alexander Lebedev is a Russian oligarch and a former member of the Russian secret service.