The drawback to the UK’s newest daily newspaper came to me as I was queueing up in the newsagent, 20p in hand. It was in front of me, buying six cans of Stella, baccy, and Rizlas. At 10:30am, this chap clearly had a good day lined up. But I was getting impatient. And I wasn’t even on my way to work.
Actually, I really like i, the cut-down version of the Independent that hit the streets this morning. Now it and the Evening Standard are under common ownership, this is actually the direction I expected the Standard to take when it went free – crisply laid-out with short, yet authoritative news stories but retaining some of the better columnists. i reminds me of a bulkier version of the international Metros (no relation to our one) or the European 20 Minutes than the fluff-filled UK Metro.
Not that there’s too much wrong with Metro – except when it occasionally lapses into lazy Daily Mail-think – but it’s basically a rehash of what ran on the Press Association wire the previous day with added kittens. But for readers who want a bit more, there’s nothing between that and the “quality” press, which now groans with opinion, waffle, lifestyle and bullshit from every corner.
I gave up buying newspapers because I didn’t want to continue subsidising Polly Filler and her pals lecturing me about their Jimmy Choos and school runs. It’s no coincidence that The Economist, which features a blend of anonymous commentary and dry humour, is seeing sales rise while newspapers remain in freefall. Peter Watts has some thoughts on this at The Great Wen. Indeed, today’s Guardian had a plug for a Doonesbury feature above its masthead – which seemed to be more of an attempt to recapture lapsed Guardian readers than attract anyone new.
Does i fill the gap? It makes a good stab at it, and it feels like something new rather than a cut-down Indepdendent; a proper paper with much of the crap taken out. But we’re now surrounded by free news everywhere – assaulted by it during the not-missed days of the London freesheet wars – I can’t help thinking that 20p is a barrier to success. Granted, that 20p means i gets seen in newsagents across the country, an important thing to note when London’s only evening paper has rarely been seen outside of the centre of the capital since going free.
But it’s not the cost in pennies that’s the deterrent, but the cost in time – if you use North Greenwich Tube, while queue at the world’s worst WH Smiths when you could pick up a Metro for nothing and not miss your train? My regular paper-buying habit weakened when my local newsagent changed hands and was taken over by a man who had to run everything through the till, instead of conducting paper sales with a pile of 10ps on the counter.
That said, I can’t help thinking the end game for i might be that it eventually goes free – driving a further nail into the coffin of the daily printed newspaper. It’ll be an interesting few months ahead – especially for the Independent’s competitors.