From March, the print Independent is no more – owner ESI Media announced the shutting down of the daily and Sunday Independent, moving the title exclusively online and selling its spin-off, the i, to Johnston Press.
The move could result in more than 100 redundancies, but some 25 new roles are being created to work on independent.co.uk.
Just under 70 million people read the Independent online in January, according to the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation released today, representing record traffic for the outlet and a month-on-month increase of 17 per cent.
The Independent is the first national newspaper in the United Kingdom to leave print behind, but other titles have already made similar choices around the world. Canadian newspaper La Presse for example stopped publishing its daily print editions, which were moved to a tablet app called La Presse+ in January, although it continues to print the Saturday newspaper.
The Independent also plans to launch a subscription mobile app. In becoming digital-only, The Independent and other titles that are making the same transition should make space for experimenting in their operations.
"The biggest barrier is cultural, it's not simply a matter of switching from a print newspaper to an online newspaper and it being about technology," explained Paul Bradshaw, who runs the online journalism MA at Birmingham City University.
"It isn't just writing for a different platform, it is a complete change of medium. It's no different from switching from being a newspaper to being a radio station and I think they should treat it like that."
According to the latest National Readership Survey figures, more than 60 per cent of its digital audience accesses the site exclusively from mobile devices.
Dropping the print edition could create the right environment to better serve these audiences, taking "the legacy problem" the editor of Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat highlighted in October out of the equation.
The Independent still has a long way to go on digital, with an output that is still mostly based on text, and the challenge is keeping up the quality its print readers were accustomed to as well as reinventing itself.
"The huge opportunity it's got is no longer needing to synchronise workflows with something that supports the print operation. It can now act like a pure-play digital player because it is that," Adam Tinworth, publishing strategist and journalism trainer, told Journalism.co.uk.
"It needs to make some smart choices about rebalancing perhaps some of the staff, figure out where the writing gives the most compelling advantage and how to then bring in other skillsets to richen the digital offering to make it really stand out. That's the only way it's going to make this transition work.
"It needs to be aggressively different from the other offerings out there, in the same way the print Independent was back in the 80s."
The soon-to-be digital-only title will also have to look to experiment with revenue streams, and find the right metrics to measure its success.
There is no recipe for making a digital-only media outlet sustainable, and a large majority of the media executives interviewed last year as part of the World Newsmedia Innovation Study said they expect alternative revenue streams to make up a significant chunk of their income in the next five years.
And 20 per cent of them, dubbed 'The Pioneers' by study author Dr. François Nel, Journalism Leaders Programme director at the University of Central Lancashire, expect they will have to earn over half of their revenue from sources other than traditional advertising or content sales.
"All of those who are actively looking to diversify are almost three times more likely to be reporting significant increases in revenue compared to those who only focus on print and traditional models," he told Journalism.co.uk.
"The other thing they should not do is lose focus on the customer, the audience, because that is the key for business success – to remain customer-focused.
"And often in these turbulent times the focus can be on the cost cutting rather than customer satisfaction. At this time, [they should] ensure that they keep thinking about the customers, the audience," said Nel.
Free daily newsletter
- Newsrewired to offer 40 virtual places to local journalists thanks to support from the Google News Initiative
- From gloom to boom: leveraging the 'coronabump' subscription surge
- How broadcasters and the government can prepare young people for the next 'infodemic'
- What will newsrooms look like after the pandemic is over?
- Decrypt experiments with own cryptocurrency in search for independent revenue stream