Cut-price paper's circulation has dropped off since launch and staff are feeling the strain of producing it, according to sources.
The Independent's cut-price spin-off i is thought to have attracted average daily sales of about 125,000 copies, with circulation thought to have halved since launch.
Staff on the paper have been working "extreme and unsustainable hours" since the launch, according to the National Union of Journalists, which is planning to lodge an official complaint that the launch was "recklessly" planned and executed.
Alexander Lebedev's 20p weekday daily launched on 26 October with a flurry of media coverage helping to drive paid-for sales of about 180,000, according to several sources. However it is understood that sales have steadily fallen away, with numbers thought to have dropped to under 100,000.
It is early days for the paper and daily sales are likely to be volatile until circulation settles.
Industry sources estimate average daily sales at between 125,000 and 150,000, with the majority picking the bottom end of the range.
"The sales have dropped off and they are trying to work out if the numbers at the beginning or its current figure reflect its appeal," said one source. "I'm sure they will be optimising their distribution model, analysing which areas and which newsagents are generating more sales, and moving copies away from areas where they are generating fewer sales."
"Wholesalers give competitors the percentage of copies that are returned but they don't tell them how many copies we distribute in the first place," said Andrew Mullins, the managing director of the Independent, Independent on Sunday and the London Evening Standard. "As a result, any numbers being talked about are purely conjecture as they do not know how many copies we have printed and distributed each day. Our numbers will remain confidential for the foreseeable future, but we can say that sales of the Independent at £1 are unaffected."
The stress of the launch, both for staff and for the Independent's balance sheet, has become starkly clear, with pay negotiations now linked to the performance of the i.
At a meeting of the Independent's National Union of Journalists chapel earlier this month members passed a motion complaining about their workload since the launch.
"The chapel is concerned about the extreme and unsustainable hours expected of some staff to produce i, and fears the problem is likely to persist due to management's reckless planning and execution of the project," the NUJ said. "Members are clear that everyone fully supports the success of i. However, members explained that they are not prepared to put up with extreme hours becoming the norm."
The chapel voted almost unanimously in favour of holding a ballot for industrial action – 105 for with one against and two abstentions – over the failure to conclude a pay deal for 2010.
The launch of i has been backed with 100,000 giveaways, about 55,000 of those thought to be targeting the London market. Before launch the longer-term target was for a combined circulation for both i and the Independent of 400,000.
The Independent has a total net circulation of 182,000, with about 89,000 sold at full rate, meaning the i needs to get to well over 200,000 copies to achieve this goal. In addition the aspiration is for i to be successful enough to have a completely paid-for customer base.Source: guardian.co.uk