Russian Billionaire Will Launch U.K. Newspaper i Next Week

Former KGB Spy Alexander Lebedev Expands His New Role as a Media Baron

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- The U.K.'s newest media baron, Russian billionaire and former KGB spy Alexander Lebedev, is launching a new daily next week. The newspaper, to be called simply i, will be published by Independent Print Ltd, the company Mr. Lebedev bought for $1.57, or one British pound, in March 2010.

Ads for the new newspaper will appear on posters, buses and subway trains, as well as in the Evening Standard and Independent.
Ads for the new newspaper will appear on posters, buses and subway trains, as well as in the Evening Standard and Independent.
Independent Print also owns the Independent, a national daily newspaper, and the London Evening Standard, a daily free paper distributed in London. The new paper will be published on weekdays and sell for just 30 cents, far below comparable dailies that sell for $1.50 or more -- a tactic Mr. Lebedev hopes will draw in both young and lapsed newspaper readers.

Beattie McGuinness Bungay, which also handles advertising for the Independent, is breaking a launch campaign this weekend that promotes i as "A new kind of daily paper."

The ads, which will appear on posters, buses and subway trains, as well as in the Evening Standard and Independent, carry lines including, "i is all you need in the time you have," "i doesn't do information overload," and "i gets to the point." It also borrows from the famous slogan from the Independent's own famous launch campaign, "It is. Are you?" created by Saatchi & Saatchi 25 years ago, instead using ""i is. Are you?"

Media buyers are welcoming the new arrival, although few seem to be buying ads so far. Patrick Whitnall, client investment director at Starcom MediaVest, said, "This is an innovative move and I only hope it reinvigorates the quality side of the market -- it's not just digital that's making people shy away from newspapers -- i is almost testing what the next step should be for quality papers."

I is targeting readers -- and lapsed readers -- of quality newspapers, and will present some of the news in digest form, although it will also carry more in-depth stories. The Independent's editor, Simon Kelner, will also be editor of i.

Independent Print is expected to run ads from the Independent and the London Evening Standard in i until the audience has stabilized and the new publication can be marketed as a standalone commercial proposition. Mr. Whitnall said, "Anything that may bring a new and different target audience will be welcomed by advertisers. This isn't just about bringing in younger readers, it's about bringing back the lapsed quality readers."

At the time of writing, media agencies had not yet seen a full mock-up of the paper. The plan is to distribute a sample of it with the London Evening Standard this coming Monday, and then on Tuesday, 55,000 copies will be sold or given away in London, with another 45,000 distributed across the rest of the country.

Many observers think the 30-cent cover price may eventually vanish in favor, turning i into a freesheet. Vanessa Clifford, head of press at Mindshare U.K., said, "This is guaranteed to fuel the debate about quality news journalism and whether it should be paid for. I'm not convinced the cover price will last long. Mr. Lebedev has proved he is willing to support quality news journalism and, with the Evening Standard [which became a freesheet a year go, before Mr. Lebedev owned it], reinforced the idea that just because something is free, doesn't mean it's low quality."

The launch of i also raises questions about the long-term future of the Independent, which could be cannibalized by the new paper. The Independent was the last national title to launch, back in 1985, but has seen its circulation decline from 260,000 in 2005 to 180,000 now, and many copies are sold at less than full price.

However, the bottom line -- at least for the moment -- is summed up by Mr. Whitnall, who said, "Lebedev has so much money that he can do what he likes. Which is a very positive thing."

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