Stephen Glover: This paper now has a chance to break even

The Guardian's coverage of last week's sale of the two Independent titles to Alexander Lebedev was characteristically charitable. By that I mean characteristically uncharitable. The paper highlighted Mr Lebedev's past as a former KGB agent, and suggested that the sale of the papers for one pound to such a man was somehow a betrayal of their original values.

Perhaps as one of The Independent's three journalistic founders in 1986 I might be allowed a word on that last point. The dream of a profitable, non-partisan newspaper free of proprietorial control has been dead for many years. To be precise, it died when Mirror Group Newspapers became dominant shareholders in the titles in 1995. We could argue whether, if mistakes had not been made, the dream could have been sustained, but the fact is that it collapsed long ago.

And, as it happens, the Independent titles have been fortunate with proprietors. I exclude Mirror Group, which never quite got the point of The Independent, but its partner, Dublin-based Independent News and Media (INM), certainly did, and was able to call the shots after gaining control in 1998. Naturally errors were made – costs could have been cut earlier; and I have always thought the titles should have maintained a wider political appeal – but INM have been good proprietors, and this paper and its Sunday sister owe the company's former controlling shareholder and chief executive, Sir Tony O'Reilly, a great debt.

As for Mr Lebedev, his one-time links to the KGB are beside the point. They belong to another world, as does the launch of The Independent. In the world we inhabit he is an enormously rich man who wants to run good newspapers. He is part owner of one of the very few independent titles in Russia, and last year acquired the London Evening Standard. His record as a newspaper publisher suggests he believes in journalism and freedom and democracy, and I would have thought that the original values of this newspaper were as safe in his hands as in anyone's.

So our friends at The Guardian need not fret on that score. My worries are quite different. In its twenty-three-and-a-half year life, The Independent has only made a profit for one, possibly two, years. Its habit of losing money does not make it unique. I doubt The Times has been profitable during a single year since Rupert Murdoch bought it in 1981, and figures released last week suggest that it lost at least £70m, possibly as much as £85m, in the 12 months to June 2009. The Guardian's annual losses are running at about £30m. The Independent is said to have lost £12m last year.

Of course, to read the lordly put-downs of this newspaper in The Guardian or The Times, you would think its finances were in some freakish category of their own. Journalists on those titles apparently believe that the Scott Trust and Rupert Murdoch respectively will bankroll them for ever. I wouldn't be so sure. (For the sake of all newspapers, I am praying that Mr Murdoch's plans, announced last week, to erect an online paywall around The Times and The Sunday Times will succeed, though I have my doubts.) Those who cherish The Independent would be wise to take a more hard-headed approach to its finances.

How easy it would be to say that, as Mr Lebedev is a billionaire, he can keep The Independent and its sibling going for as long as he likes out of petty cash. In the bleak times in which we live, where most quality newspapers are losing money and none can be certain of a long-term future, it is no longer safe to rely on a munificent sugar daddy, as The Times, The Guardian and (let's be honest) The Independent have done for too long.

I don't think Mr Lebedev is a sugar daddy, and I hope he has not acquired The Independent as a trophy to stick on his mantelpiece. I believe that this newspaper will only be secure if it can break even. Surely it is obvious that the present model is never going to be commercially viable. Left alone, the paper will continue to wither, as The Times and The Guardian are continuing to wither, each rather magnificent in its way, but each dangerously, and potentially fatally, far from profitability.

Here The Independent has one advantage, which is that, unlike its rivals, it has already substantially reduced its costs, though there may well be more work to be done. Its disadvantage is to have fewer sales, and therefore more ground to make up. Marketing, vital though it is, cannot achieve this alone. There has been talk of making the paper free in some metropolitan centres and of cutting its cover price as a promotional tool. Both are exciting options, conveying the realisation that things cannot go on as they are. No doubt other radical ideas are necessary.

Will The Independent be around in 10 or 20 years' time? Only if it acquires the habit of not losing money. I would say exactly the same about The Guardian and The Times. Mr Lebedev and his son Evgeny, who will be chairman of the new company owning the Independent titles, come with fresh ideas and open minds, though they have limited experience of British newspapers, and may be forgiven if they feel they have too many people bellowing advice in their ears. The future of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday lies in their hands.

Mr Cameron's coarse new best friend may become a liability

Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, does not obviously look like a thug. It is the shaven-haired heavies surrounding him who make you queasy. I wonder whether people are having similar thoughts about David Cameron on account of his new best friend, The Sun.

Like some over-zealous sidekick, the paper feels obliged not only to cheer its new hero at every opportunity but also to put the boot into his political adversaries whenever possible. Its post-Budget headline last Thursday did this with such crudity that even the Tory leader must have winced: "Darling just screwed more people than JT, Ashley, Mark Owen and Tiger Woods".

This from a paper once proud of its front page headlines such as "Gotcha" and "Will the last person to leave Britain please turn off the light?" and "Freddie Starr ate my hamster". The Sun's editorials, which only a few months ago defended Gordon Brown, now describe him and New Labour in vituperative terms. If I were a floating voter who read the paper, I might be put off the Tories by such coarse and clunking propaganda.

scmgox@aol.com

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Amis: Taken to task over rash decisions and ill-judged statements
booksThe Zone of Interest just doesn't work, says James Runcie
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Digital Project Manager / Web Project Manager

£45-50k (DOE) + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced ...

Account Manager

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Account Manager to join ...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home