Five ways to improve i, The Independent’s 20p newspaper

i Logo

This week has seen the launch of the first printed newspaper for almost 25 years, the i. Unveiled on Tuesday by The Independent, the Monday-to-Friday paper has received mixed reviews (notably on Twitter) but circulation figures have reportedly ‘surpassed our most bullish expectations’ according to Simon Kelner.

We’ve been relatively impressed by the 56-page tabloid, which markets itself as ‘The paper for today’. We also have a lot of time for Kelner and Independent Print Limited owner Alexander Lebedev for thinking outside the box.

However, it’s by no means flawless and, with that in mind, we suggest five ways the i could be improved.

1. Use less NIBs (news in briefs)

We know i is supposed to be an ‘essential daily briefing’  which ‘combines intelligence with brevity and depth with speed of reading’ (so says the extensive i eight-page pull-out advertisement in the Evening Standard on Monday) but that doesn’t mean a large percentage of articles have to be under 40 words.

i is over-nibbed, with The News Matrix on page two and three resembling a chessboard and the Business and Sport Matrix (pages 42 and 54 respectively) also somewhat bewildering. There is absolutely no problem with using a lot of NIBs. The Sun do it very well and, according to a well-respected journalist and lecturer of ours, they are in fact the most read part of the paper. But i has gone too far.

2. Let’s have the news agenda, not the entertainment agenda

i – at times this week – has tried too hard to provide the other media agenda for those ‘who prize intelligence, convenience and desirability’ (according to Kelner in Monday’s Standard). It has gone big with stories that weren’t big in other papers (notably ‘Who shot the Emperor?’ about the hunt for the trophy seeker who shot the UK’s largest stag, and the housing crisis in Britain that was only the Business lead in the Independent) .

Not only that but i have given a lot of space to what probably comes under entertainment – a lookalike of Alexander McQueen’s dress in the new Harry Potter film (p6 – Wednesday), Bert from Sesame Street possibly being gay (p10 – Tuesday), unseen pictures of Michael Jackson (p6 – Tuesday) , Charlie Sheen and some prostitute (p3 – Thursday), Carnations being back in vogue (p9 – Thursday). i is in danger of being pop news rather than hard news.

i also doesn't do stories longer than a sentence

3. Get rid of the chummy ‘Letter from the editor’

‘A newspaper is like a living organism’ is the hilarious opening line of yesterday’s attempt by Simon Kelner to appear accessible and interested in the reader. Other cringeworthy attempts have included ‘we’re setting out on a journey of discovery’  and capping it all on Tuesday: ‘We know that, as with any new product, it may take you a little time to feel comfortable with i, which could not sound more door-to-door salesman if it tried. Come on Simon, we know you’re the editor, we know editors are elusive and care little for anyone’s opinion but their own – you can stop this act now.

4. Do things differently

If you’re going to be brave and bold and lauch the first new printed newspaper for over 25 years, at least make it fresh and new. The front page still looks like – well – a pretty standard front page and the layout on a page-by-page basis is straight out of the Independent’s style guide. Where is the infographics corner (more digestible than NIBs) or a more modular layout that gets rid of columns? More could have certainly been made of i‘s design.

5. Make it convenient

A problem with print news is not necessarily the financial implications but that they are not convenient. You have to go out of your way to a shop to buy one.  The Metro has such a high circulation because it is conveniently placed in train and underground stations across the capital and the suburbs. To read i you still have to make that unwanted journey to a place that sells it. I don’t think people mind the 20p cover price but they do mind having precious time taken out of their day. Patrick Smith writes interestingly about how i may well go free to challenge the dominance of the Metro. But it’s the Metro’s convenience the i needs to challenge. Not its cost.


About benwhitelaw
Ben is Communities Editor at The Times

9 Responses to Five ways to improve i, The Independent’s 20p newspaper

  1. I think point five is most interesting. One way around this would be to have newspaper vending machines, as they have the USA and across Europe. Pop in your 20p, out plops a newspapers. Takes 3 seconds longer than just picking up a metro.

  2. Thanks for the link. On second thoughts, it would be very difficult for i to go free and challenge Metro direct because Associated newspapers hold the key distribution contracts on London Underground, with National Rail and so on, across the country. There are other ways of doing free distribution, such as people in brightly covered tabards, handing them out but it would be an unprecedented challenge of resources to do this nationally. So I hang a question mark over my own theory.

    • BristleKRS says:

      Metro already contracts out hand-to-hand distribution in city centres and strategic town locations across the country; this work is done by an employment agency specialising in ‘street merchandising’. This agency was recently involved in renegotiating contracts.

      The same agency was also hired by The Independent to carry out the bulk of its nationwide election campaign free giveaway/circulation drive. As I understand it The Independent‘s distribution manager running the scheme was not best pleased with the agency’s performance.

      The infrastructure that supports Metro is more precarious than ANL would like you to think; it could be replicated by The Independent.

  3. I actually really liked the idea of the various ‘matrices’. News and Business NIBS lend themselves very well to a morning “train” newspaper. On comment, I’m not so sure. Do I really want 6 Yes/No style paragraphs that outline a plethora of opinion topics without going into any detail? Comment benefits from having time to consider, that’s why I love the Observer’s Comment section so much.

    A lot of people have been laying into the format as well. Personally I thought it looked pretty snazzy. Sure, it’s no design classic but it looks a lot fresher than any freesheets, and the front pages have consistently been more interesting than newspapers in a similar price bracket. I’d certainly consider buying The I for a morning commute rather than getting a free Metro, which is surely the goal.

  4. In the following blog post on the ‘News is Beautiful’ blog, it appears that we disagree slightly about the i’s use of infographics…but I clarified my standing in a comment on the post, otherwise my views may have been interpreted incorrectly.

    Great post!

    Have a read –

  5. Peter Demain says:

    I enjoyed this post. Ben possesses enough enthused insight to bother to write a better critical analysis than that most (all?) of his media peers authored. Good to see this website not going overboard on the use of bold this time round too. Looking at the points…

    1) In this manner it reflects the Indie which has become known for its unusual covers and stories – the aesthetic and ‘stone left unturned’ are pretty much that paper’s unique selling points. It seems to draw to some extent on the Guardian’s inside layout, plus magazines for young people. Can’t say I’m fussed on it.

    2) When The Times went tabloid a few years ago, the content had long shifted towards a ‘cultured’ presentation of redtop arts/entertainment stuff. Same for all broadsheets – apparently the whole ‘news’ of ‘newspaper’ should be regressed to broaden appeal. Could rant a bit here, but anyone can pick up a supplement packed Saturday rag to see this abundantly.

    3) Indeed. I picked up an issue of Lancashire Life last month to see the editor’s (Roger Borrell) pontificate tangent signed off with ‘Roger the bear’ with a request that complaints be addressed ‘to the bear’. A little picture of a teddy too in case we’d forgotten our childhood years handling one! I suppose the trivial nature of his rant, not a flashback to a Eurotrash episode, made me think ‘what’s the need?’

    4) One of the defining features of the press more or less since the start is the column…so it follows that it should be the first thing to jettison.

    5) Forget not the economics – the idea of a ‘free’ newspaper disgusts most corporate magnates as it introduces the concept that news information should be free. Nevermind that any newspaper with its glossy supplements and masses of black and coloured ink costs far more than the cover price to print and get on the stands – it’s an odd, pre-Internet principle that if abandoned will be done so gradually and grudgingly. Ads always have turned the profit.

    One idea for the i would be to put copies in say student unions, pubs or cafés with a young clientele, even use targeted Facebook marketing perhaps. Public transport harbours a vast range of people; it’s more scattershot than concise – that the Metro has a wider market is reflected in their approach.

    Pete, editor at Dirty Garnet.

  6. AJinexile says:

    The Indepedent’s 20p newspaper: that’s the headline. Wannabe subs — spot the error!

    • Peter Demain says:

      Such errors are a non-issue; the non-wannabe wannabe has a job in’t Graun now don’t you know?

      Best journo website…. some of the best articles… one of the best sites of the 10’s- seriously beautiful and shows the true talent that these five “wannabes” really have: Viva Forever .

      Pete, editor at Dirty Garnet.

  7. *fewer NIBs*…..

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