The Independent is unlikely to be sold or go online-only despite growing speculation, according to a senior online executive. Jimmy Leach, editorial director for digital, spoke to paidContent:UK hours after Independent News & Media told the stock market it was looking to sell off unprofitable, non-core assets to maintain a healthy balance sheet despite an “unwarranted” share price slump. Leach, the former head of new media at 10 Downing Street who joined the Indie in July, says that an Indie sell-off is not on the cards and that his small team must use social media to drive traffic in lieu of a big marketing budget…
– Independent sell-off? Online-only?: “It’s not on the horizon. Those conversations are above my pay grade but I would have said that [making profit] isn’t why (INM CEO) Tony O’Reilly has newspapers in the first place.” A few people have openly questioned whether the loss-making Indie titles could be sold off and new Evening Standard owner Alexander Lebedev reportedly expressed an interest. But Leach says a more plausible scenario is that INM sells its non-controlling stakes in other companies around the world. Observers have suggested INM scrap the print editions and concentrate on Independent.co.uk — but Leach says that move is highly unlikely.
– Exposure through social media: Independent.co.uk has been busy signing social media partnerships: last November it launched its Independent Minds blogging platform in partnership with LiveJournal; it now has its own YouTube channel and there are content deals with news betting site Hubdub and news aggregator Reddit. “If you can’t spend massive amounts on marketing you have to find other ways of doing it,” he says. “You have to go where the audience is rather than expecting them to come to us.” He says that with a bigger budget the paper would consider investing in advertising to draw people into the site, but then he wonders whether that would make sense in the long term.
– Audience vs revenue: Some have questioned whether social media really can lead to increased profits, but that’s definitely Leach’s plan: “The longer the journey they make on the site, the more inventory you’ll sell and the more money you’ll make,” he says. The YouTube deal includes a revenue-sharing agreement, but Leach is realistic about its monetary worth: “YouTube haven’t successfully monetised themselves, let alone [allowing partners] to get a fantastic share… It’s more to drive awareness that we’re here.”
– Low resources Independent.co.uk has quietly doubled its online audience to 8.88 million unique users in November, according to ABCe, compared to 4.6 million a year ago. But the Indie has a fraction of the online staff or marketing budget of its rivals: Leach runs a team of just 10 people. INM group revenues increased 27 percent in the nine months to October, though it is unlikely Independent.co.uk is making a major contribution to profits.
– Associated move: The Indie and the Independent on Sunday will shortly leave their current London Docklands home and move into DMGT’s Associated Newspapers office in Kensington. The two companies will reportedly share IT resources and Leach predicts the tie-in to end there: “I’d be quite surprised if there was any editorial sharing. I’m not entirely sure what that will entail, I’m sure they’ll discuss all possibilities.”