WHEN the tabloid newspaper Today closed at the end of last week, it marked the end of a decade in the British national press. The mid-1980s, when Today was founded by entrepreneur Eddie Shah, were an exhilarating time. It sometimes seemed that wherever one looked, somebody was planning a new newspaper, and several of them actually got off the ground. Today was set up to exploit colour and the collapse of the power of print unions. The London Daily News and the Sunday Correspondent came and went. Now only The Independent and Independent on Sunday remain, and the daily lost its editor last week while one report has put the two papers' losses at GBP1 million (HK$12 million) a month. The bloom of 10 years ago has, clearly, faded in a serious manner. British national newspapers still sell a large number of copies by international standards - about 13 million copies on each week day and a million or so more on Sunday. But the uncertainties of the industry are reflected in a merry-go-round of changes among editors which has reached almost manic proportions. In recent weeks, new editors have taken over at the Daily and Sunday Telegraph after Max Hastings, who had modernised the daily paper, left for the London Evening Standard. The editor of the Daily Express announced that he was leaving and a new editor is taking over shortly at the Daily Mirror. An acting editor is running The Independent. Four Sunday newspapers have changed editors in the past year. The 1980s boom went sour for several reasons. An advertising bonanza at the end of the decade faded into recession and the arrival of the new entrants, while it had a tonic effect on the industry, meant there was one too many players commercially in each sector of the market. Those problems have been multiplied hugely by the sharp increase in the price of newsprint over the past couple of years and, at the same time, Rupert Murdoch unleashed a major storm by cutting the price of his daily papers to buy market share. That war has gobbled up huge amounts of money at a time when the basic raw material - paper - is costing so much more than it used to. But Mr Murdoch seems to be on his way to winning yet another enormous gamble. The circulation of The Times has almost doubled and Mr Murdoch now evidently feels confident enough of its more middle-market hold on its new readers to have edged the price up from 25 pence to 30 pence. As the advertising return from the new circulation comes through at The Times, Mr Murdoch's broadsheet rivals are feeling the pinch financially. The Daily Telegraph has been pushed into similar price-cutting which it can less easily afford without the financial resources of the Murdoch group behind it, though last week's increase in the price of The Times enabled The Telegraph to charge more too. The Independent's decision to join the price-cutting has brought it nothing but woe, with circulation stuck at 300,000 (less than half The Times and less than a third of The Telegraph ). By putting its restricted resources into editorial development and promotion rather than covering the cost of a low cover price, The Guardian initially emerged from the battle in much better shape on a circulation of 400,000 but is now said to be feeling pressure on the advertising side. And, while both Mr Murdoch's Sun and the Daily Mirror look in good shape among the tabloids, two of the great old middle market names of British newspapers - the Daily Express and Sunday Express - are in trouble. Their circulation and reader appeal have declined remorselessly as they have fallen increasingly behind the slick, on-the-ball Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday which, again, kept clear of the price war and concentrated on giving readers value for money. The two Expresses are said to be up for sale to the bidder with the right price - among the names mentioned are composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber or the Heinz boss, Tony O'Reilly, who, in the sometimes convoluted way of newspaper ownership, has a big stake in The Independent. In this situation, pessimists - who would say they are only realists - believe the British national press is heading back towards the position of the early 1980s, with the old newspapers showing their survival capacity, new papers not making the long-term grade and a couple of struggling titles kept alive by owners for reasons of politics or personal vanity. If that is right, the circle will have turned, providing fresh proof that, while it is all too easy to dream up a new newspaper project, sustaining one is among the more difficult business and creative exercises. In many countries, Today's circulation of 573,000 would have been at least enough for survival; not in Britain in 1995. Jonathan Fenby is editor of the South China Morning Post and was assistant editor of The Independent when it was founded in 1986.