While the closure is part of a larger effort by owners News International to trim the fat from their portfolio and erect paywalls around profitable titles, it also speaks to the future of freesheets on the web.
Back in April, thelondonpaper re-launched their web site. What was interesting about that was that London Lite had effectively no web site. It still doesn’t — just a ‘e-edition’. Its content is “incorporated” with morning freesheet Metro.co.uk. Looking back, one has to wonder what would have happened if the money hadn’t been sank into the web presence. Would thelondonpaper still be around?
In a comment on a Guardian article about the closure, a now-former londonpaper web developer had the following to say about the redesign:
I’ve been a freelance web developer at thelondonpaper.com for the past two years. After fighting through a huge amount of red tape, we were finally able to relaunch the badly failing launch website in April this year and have doubled our traffic within four months.
When it closed, thelondonpaper had a circulation of about 1.1 million. What we don’t know is the web stats. It’s great they doubled traffic — but what did they double?
Metro qualifies as a “general interest” title, but the competition they face in the mornings is minimal — either pay for a paper, or pick up a free Metro. Also, City AM is extremely niche. There isn’t another free daily business news title that competes with it. The City AM web site isn’t very good, which is possibly intentional so to discourage web visits and drive print readership.
With thelondonpaper, News International wanted it all: a robust free print product and a robust free web site. When your product is free, losing millions every year and is often read just because it’s there, you’ve got to make a choice.
News International chose to close it down, cut their losses and move on. By the end of it, News International was so disconnected from the title they wouldn’t even entertain an offer to buy it. The brand dies with the company’s decision to close the title.
But it still makes me wonder what could have been if thelondonpaper had stayed away from the web. Had they of taken that money and instead sunk it into something else — other than a robust web presence — to set themselves apart, would the paper have survived?