When it was launched last October, i, the Independent's new cheaper sibling, felt like a last hurrah. For a while the full price Indy had been selling below 80,000 copies a day, putting it in the same circulation league as the Manchester Evening News. Staffing had been cut beyond the level where a newspaper should be able to function; its web strategy was non-existent; and, despite many excellent writers, its reliance on anonymous agency copy made it feel like it was on the verge of giving up.
But long-term observers of the Indy should have known that it has an amazing capacity to survive regular brushes with mortality. Seven years ago it was in the same position, and Editor Simon Kelner hit on the wheeze of making it the first broadsheet to appear in tabloid format. Barely six months later the Times followed, and the Guardian invested in its expensive new Berliner press. With barely any resources he had set the default trend for the rest of the broadsheets. Now, after taking back the steering wheel from Roger Alton, Kelner has made necessity the mother of invention once again. i was designed as a 20p, shorter, pacier and more colourful version of the Independent. Sceptics thought that it would fall in the gap between Freesheets and paid-for newspapers. When commuters could pick up a Metro from the pile, would they bother to queue at the newsagent to pay? And if they were likely to pay would the 80p price saving over a proper broadsheet make a difference?
Just released figures show that, six months and an advert featuring Jemima Goldsmith later, the i has found itself a paying audience of over 170,000 - more than twice the circulation of the Independent. And, in an ultimate tribute, a News International project team has been set up to emulate its success. Though I retools the copy that goes into the Independent every day, it's a far more middle-range newspaper. Stories are short, though they are far more flavoursome than the bland fare on offer in the Metro.
One Friday at the end of March 2011, the Independent chose to go with an interview with the man suspected of killing PC Yvonne Fletcher - an Independent story given the Independent's reputation for foreign affairs. i, meanwhile, chose some much more straightforward crime reporting about the discovery of two bodies - "The Mystery of the White Horse Murders": the kind of story that also dominated the Express and Mail. With its news matrixes and online-style bites of news, i succeeds well in giving a fast briefing for time-poor newspaper readers that Kelner originally promised, but who, with the short time they have available, don't want to be left with down-market celebrity fare. The jury is still out, however, on whether the advertisers will bite, and whether its impressive circulation trajectory will outlast the expensive advertising campaign. RB