LONDON: Six months after it became the first UK national newspaper to go digital-only, The Independent has returned to profitability for the first time in more than 20 years, according to its owner.

Evgeny Lebedev, the Russian journalist and media tycoon, told the Financial Times that the 30-year-old newspaper is now profitable for the first time in 23 years and that he saw “new opportunities” for the news brand.

“By going online-only we freed ourselves from the unwieldy infrastructure of print, and allowed ourselves to be far more flexible,” he said.

“It is still early days, but the first six months have shown that by being more nimble and digitally focused we can better serve our new, much bigger audience online.”

The company expects to generate revenues of £20m in 2016 and says its digital advertising revenues have grown by 45% year-on-year.

New data from the AA/Warc Expenditure Report, which surveys national newsbrand publishers to ascertain quarterly advertising revenue, are due to be released on Tuesday 25th October. However, recent circulation figures have shown that The Independent's switch to digital-only has boosted its readership.

According to data from comScore, the newspaper's website saw 21m unique users in June, up from 15.8m when The Independent first announced its move to online, although the number of unique users later fell back to 16.2m in August.

However, the Audit Bureau of Circulation has reported that The Independent achieved 74.3m unique browsers in August, a year-on-year increase of 41%. What's more, its Facebook page had 5m “likes”, or 1.3m more than the Daily Telegraph.

The UK media industry is keeping a close eye on how The Independent's digital strategy fares at a time when traditional print advertising revenues are falling.

As its name implies, the newspaper also built up a reputation for non-partisan political coverage and originality, and the question for some is whether these unique selling points can be maintained in a digital-only format.

“While The Independent is still an important force in UK political life, there are consequences to its reduced visibility for consumers,” observed Douglas McCabe, CEO of Enders Analysis.

“Print newspapers may be retreating, but they remain an extraordinarily influential medium for middle-aged and older audiences,” he added.

Data sourced from Financial Times, Independent; additional content by Warc staff