London (AFP) - The Independent will publish its final print edition next month and become digital only, its owners said on Friday, in the latest shake-up for British newspapers hit by falling advertising revenues.
"The newspaper industry is changing and that change is being driven by readers. They're showing us that the future is digital," said Evgeny Lebedev, the Russian-born British owner of The Independent.
The newspaper, which was set up by three former journalists in 1986 and became known for its eye-catching, campaigning front pages and emphasis on photos, will publish its last edition on March 26.
The last Independent on Sunday will be on March 20.
ESI Media, the group which controls The Independent, said in a statement it was also selling off the "i" -- a cut-price sister title -- to Scotland-based publisher Johnston Press to fund the website.
The sale price is estimated at £25 million (32 million euros, $36 million), according to British media reports. Johnston Press owns several titles including The Scotsman and the Yorkshire Post.
ESI media said "a significant number of employees" would move to Johnston Press and there would be "some redundancies" but did not specify any numbers.
- Managed decline? -
"We faced a choice: manage the continued decline of print, or convert the digital foundation we've built into a sustainable, profitable future," Lebedev told the newspaper's employees in a letter.
"We will be the first of many leading newspapers to embrace a wholly digital future," he said.
The company said it would launch a subscription mobile app, open new bureaux in Europe, the Middle East and Asia and expand in the United States.
"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 on our online platforms," Lebedev said.
Like many newspapers, The Independent has struggled with falling readership numbers for its print edition.
It has a paid circulation of around 40,000, making it Britain's least-read national newspaper.
The Independent will be Britain's first daily national to close since 1995 when Today folded.
The weekly News of the World owned by US media tycoon Rupert Murdoch closed in 2011 in the wake of a series of phone hacking scandals but was replaced by the Sun on Sunday, which is owned by the same group.
"The newspaper was born 30 years ago as a dream by idealist journalists who enjoyed virtually instantaneous success until they awoke to business reality," Guardian columnist Roy Greenslade said.
He highlighted the "surprising innovations" pioneered by the Independent, which was the first newspaper to switch from broadsheet to a more compact format.
"In national newspaper terms, it looks set to be the first casualty of the digital revolution," he said.
The Independent's peak circulation, recorded in November 1989, was 421,829.
From 2010, when the paper launched the "i", to 2015, The Independent's cover price increased from £1 to £1.60 and the Sunday edition's from £1.80 to £2.20.
Lebedev said it was the "fastest-growing quality newspaper site" with a monthly audience of nearly 70 million -- 33.3-percent higher than 12 months ago.
ESI Media also owns TV station London Live and the British capital's Evening Standard daily.
The Independent is one of many British newspapers facing up to the challenge of falling revenues and difficulties in shifting into a financially sustainable digital model.
The Guardian has said it will have to cut running costs by 20 percent over the next three years and the Daily Telegraph has launched a strategic review of the business that some fear could lead to job cuts.