The Independent group plan to launch a new compact daily newspaper costing just 20p. Called the i, it will combine "intelligence with brevity" and is aimed at "lapsed" readers of quality newspapers - of which there are quite a few. The Independent group's managing director Andy Mullins said he expects many of the readers to be commuters. He told The Guardian:
"Time-poor newspaper readers, and especially commuters, have been telling us for years that they are inundated with information and just don't have the time to read a quality newspaper on a regular basis," he added. "We are creating a newspaper for the 21st century that is designed for people who have a thirst for information and entertainment in the limited time that they have available."
The Independent is not a big seller in Scotland, and fewer people commute by train here than in the South of England. Still, I imagine a number of publishers will be watching the i with interest. I have long thought that newspapers were too expensive. For the last ten years, particularly in the "regional market" in the UK and America, prices were hiked up by corporate owners determined to screw unfeasible profits out of products they believed had no long term future.
Newspapers have also grown in size. They offer a wide array of material, which the individual readers will dip into selectively and then perhaps feel short changed paying for what they do not read. Say you have a real passion for Scottish politics, current affairs and business - that will only constitute a small part of your daily newspaper, which will also carry sport, culture, news of crime and entertainment. And nowadays there's the challenge of recycling all those sections.
As the i-pad becomes ubiquitous, (Apple has just announced record profits of $4.31 billion for the last quarter) the same time-pressed readers can go to websites covering the niche areas that interest them - note the rise of Newsnet Scotland which in a short period of time achieved 2 million page views. Or they might effectively construct their own newspapers using tools like Google Reader. They can also dip into established newspaper websites for a summary in headlines and intro paragraphs - then click on what really interests them if they want more.
Still, there is a residual fondness for print which, unlike the internet, readers are prepared to pay for, especially if the price is right. And you cannot take the i-pad into the bath, though Steve Jobs is surely working on that one...