The Independent closes its print editions to go online only

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For some time, it hasn't been a question of 'if' but 'when' and 'who'. Well, now we know the answer. The Independent (and its Sunday title) is the first national UK newspaper to surrender its print edition and become a digital-only publication.

Announcing the decision on Friday morning, and promoting it as a move to a "digital-only future", owners ESI Media said there would be "some redundancies among editorial employees". But it said there would also be 25 new "digital-content roles".

"The popular 'i' title is to be sold to Johnston Press."

As for the future of the popular 'i' title, that is to be sold to Johnston Press. In the world of newspapers, this is something of an earthquake. Not just because it sees a major player abandon its traditional format, but because it represents the future for many of its competitors. We are now witnessing the last days of newspapers printed on actual paper.

"The last print edition of the paper will appear on Saturday 26 March."

Evgeny Lebedev, ESI's owner, remained upbeat (at least in public), saying: "This decision preserves the Independent brand and allows us to continue to invest in the high-quality editorial content that is attracting more and more readers to our online platforms."

The last print edition of the paper will appear on Saturday 26 March, while the last Independent on Sunday will be on 20 March.

Of course this is a fascinating development for casual observers of the media, but a very worrying turn of events for The Independent's staff. It has been said that a "significant number" of staff would move to Johnston Press as part of the sale of the 'i'. The London Evening Standard - also owned by ESI - apparently remains unaffected. For now.

"It sold just over 56,074 copies on average."

The Independent was set up in 1986, but circulation figures for December 2015 suggest it sold just over 56,074 copies on average - far behind the sales of rival national newspapers, which ranged from The Sun on 1.8 million to The Guardian on 166,000.

Mega-wealthy Russian investor Alexander Lebedev took control of the loss-making newspapers in 2010 when he bought Independent News Media for £1. Journalists from elsewhere have been swift to praise the title and its staff. ITV political editor Robert Peston tweeted: "Closure of @Independent as print title is heart-rending, terrible. Such an important paper in its day." The BBC's Andrew Marr, replied: "Not in its day, Robert. It's day is now!"

Nevertheless, Stephen Glover, a co-founder of the Independent, said the paper was selling "so few copies that it doesn't really make sense to go on printing it every day". On Thursday - he told Newsnight: "If it is true then I think it will be the first of many papers which stop their print editions and have another existence online." And he's right.

"Many expect The Guardian to follow suit in the next couple of years."

Many expect The Guardian to follow suit in the next couple of years, and the last man standing to fold within a decade. Glover also said there was a "longer question" about whether online-only papers could support the same number of journalists and do the "same sort of journalism" as printed ones.

Even if you're not a reader of The Independent, this decision is undoubtedly a sea-change. When all the country's written news is solely available on screens, we will look back on Friday 12th February as the day the media changed irrevocably. Whether it changed for the better remains to be seen.


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