O'Reilly: Papers are 'the ultimate browser'

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The Independent Online

Sir Anthony O'Reilly, the chief executive of Independent News & Media, reaffirmed his commitment to the future of the printed media yesterday by describing newspapers as "the ultimate browser" capable of delivering large audiences at low cost to advertisers.

The response of Independent News & Media, the owner of The Independent and The Independent On Sunday, to the march of new media had been measured and thoughtful, he said.

Sir Anthony said he believed we are in another period of wild stock-market overstatement for a certain class of media assets. Although this period would pass, in the meantime conventional media - terrestrial TV, cable, radio, newspapers and magazines - had been relegated in many investors' minds to a "show me your model status".

Speaking at the company's annual meeting in Dublin, Sir Anthony said the multiplication of media devices which concentrate on the individual's needs at any given point had made it much more difficult to aggregate large audiences.

In these circumstances, TV, newspapers and magazines, and to a degree radio, remained the best and the only way for mass audiences for goods and services to be created. However, the internet could yield an extraordinary opportunity to the newspaper industry on the production side in putting together its products at a much lower cost.

"If we exempt newsprint, the real cost of newspapers lies in putting them together - writing them, editing them, producing pages, getting them camera-ready, producing plates, printing, and finally in distribution," Sir Anthony said.

Asked after the meeting whether he would sell his London-based titles, which are loss-making, he insisted: "No, absolutely not."

He said it is now acknowledged that The Independent is one of the most important elements in the group's international credibility. Its ownership had helped the company buy into South Africa and provided a rich source of editorial to the company's titles elsewhere in the world.

Plans are afoot to print the title in India, where the group acquired a major minority holding last year in the subcontinent's leading newspaper group. Sir Anthony expressed considerable excitement over this investment.

Advertising in India is growing at about 25 per cent per annum, and he was confident India would be one of the economic phenomena of the next decade.