09 July 2008

Requiem for a lightweight

The Independent is no more.

Well, not at this moment but the prospect of the paper surviving the latest withdrawal of investor Brian Dobbin is limited.

Editor Ryan Cleary told CBC Radio a bunch of things this afternoon. 

He noted, for example that the paper's circulation has grown 10% in the past year or so.

Okay.  Then if the paper was making money, and circulation was on the rise, and Dobbin remained committed to the idea of the weekly pseudo-separatist broadsheet, he might be willing to keep his cash invested.

Evidently he wasn't.

There was a noticeable drop in government advertising in the last issue.  Only two pages compared to five or six full pages before now.  That's got to hurt.

The loss of Stirling Press may have hurt, if the Indy was using their offset.  But, the non-stop crap-fight Cleary waged against Transcontinental certainly wouldn't help any chances of cutting a deal with them to print the Indy.

There's a thing called friendly competition but Cleary made it a vicious, public blood feud which was of no value at all to anyone.   The Indy was never a market threat to the Telly but there'd certainly be no great willingness to even talk about cutting any kind of deal.

But face it:  if the Indy was making money or making enough, Brian Dobbin wouldn't be taking his teddy and if not throwing it in the corner at least taking it  somewhere else.   If it was a marginal venture or losing money, it's easy to see why Dobbin'd be heading elsewhere and taking his dough with him.  If the paper was marginal or a money loser, he also wouldn't have had any interest in shelling out more cash to buy the Stirling press and take on that along with everything else.

The Indy has obviously gone through a bunch of changes in the past year or so all in an effort to reduce costs.  They've moved out of the downtown and into cheaper digs on LeMarchant Road.

Obviously, it didn't work.

This marks the second withdrawal by Dobbin and the second death of the weekly. As Bond Papers noted the last time the lights went out at the Indy, the paper failed to live up each week to the boasting and bragging of editor Cleary. That certainly hasn't helped the paper.

Cleary also said something to the effect that there is room in the province for another paper.  We'll we already have a flood of papers in St. John's and it wouldn't take much for any of them to spread province-wide.

 The Scope and The Business Post are doing reasonably well, but they use a different business model and they both have content the Indy has never been able to match on any level. They can expand and fill whatever gap the Indy leaves behind.  Neither will likely look for a circulation boost from Joan Forsey or Patrick O'Flaherty, though. 

Different business model plus content people look forward to reading and you have a winner.

Both the Scope and the Business Post can also move to new media approaches more readily than the Indy seemed to be willing to do.  It's online presence sucked from the start, but it could be forgiven in a start-up.  By this point, though, the Indy could have shifted dramatically in the direction to more successful print media elsewhere: online daily content updated as the day rolls with new and different stuff in the print. 

Or Cleary could have just as easily shifted the whole thing online at lower costs long ago.  Put the energy into producing a decent quality daily, hard news product and go head to head with the big guys. Maybe they'll try to reform the whole thing in that direction now.  For some reason, that doesn't seem likely.

Here's the ultimate point:  print as done by the Indy is either dead or on life support with a prediction of imminent death.  The smarties have changed their business model - The Business Post - or morphed into another approach, like the Telly over the past couple of years.  Other old dailies and weeklies have gone for more dramatic makeovers with good results.

So the Indy dies again.

Two weeks of wailing on the Open Lines.  Maybe another "Save us" campaign.

And then we can all go back to the rest of the local media marketplace. 

Heaven knows there's plenty of quality content to chose from.