A paper that's worth the wait

The Independent on Sunday is joining the compact revolution. Editor Tristan Davies tells Ian Burrell why its smaller format will be welcomed by readers
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The Independent Online

The compact, the format that has revolutionised the British quality newspaper market, was invented for commuters tired of wrestling with vast expanses of newsprint during their daily train and bus journeys to work, right?

Partly so, accepts Tristan Davies, but the old broadsheet shape is just as much of a pain when you are trying to read your Sunday paper, while relaxing in bed with breakfast, he argues.

It helps to explain why The Independent on Sunday, which Davies has edited for the past four years, is switching to the compact format next weekend. "People say there's a 'train test' of how easy it is to read a newspaper, but you could also argue that there's a 'bed test', where you are sitting up in bed with the Sunday paper," he says. "It's a damn sight easier to do that if it's a compact."

From Sunday, the paper will appear as a 104-page main jacket, compared with the previous 32-page broadsheet.

There will also be a 24-page pullout travel section, which will be called The Compact Traveller and will be unlike anything else in the market. He says: "The way in which travel sections are done is pretty samey. It's hard to distinguish them from a features section. What we've come up with is a weekly guidebook, themed, practical and user-friendly."

The first Compact Traveller will be entirely dedicated to jet-set travel, while subsequent editions will be themed on cities, countries, regions or types of holidaying. What he is describing sounds similar to the type of mini travel guides sold in book shops for £5.99 a throw, and Davies agrees that the tactic is to produce something that readers will keep in the house for much longer than a week, a concept that ought to appeal to advertisers. "It will be very, very targeted on whatever the subject of the week is. One destination or one type of holiday," says Davies.

The prized Sunday Review, described by Davies as "the gold standard of Sunday supplements", will be given a "typographical spring clean". The supplement will focus more tightly on interiors, gardens, food and fashion, with real-life features being relocated into a news features section of the main paper, called News Review.

"News Review is going to be female-friendly but not to the exclusion of male readers," says Davies." There will be a mix of news features, lifestyle, reviews of the week and previews of what's happening in the week ahead. I think that will be very attractive."

He flatly rejects the notion that moving to a compact format will inevitably lead to a change in the newspaper's tone. "I think that the one thing that used to worry broadsheet papers about going compact was that you had to lower your tone. But that's not the case and The Independent has proved that," he says.

"There will absolutely be no retreat from the serious journalism we do. The campaigning reporting, the long, analytical reads will all be there. What it does allow you to do is project a wider range of stories. Instead of 13 pages of news, we will have more than 40."

News coverage will be bolstered by "more resources", he says. Jocelyn Targett, a former stalwart of the Guardian, the Sunday Times and The Observer, has been tempted out of "newspaper retirement" to work alongside Davies as a consulting editor. The editor says: "He's a brilliant ideas man and a fantastic newspaper technician. He will bring us some extra creative firepower."

Marie Woolf has been recruited from the daily newspaper as political editor, Francis Elliott has been given a new role as Whitehall editor.

Davies has also hired a new art director, Victor Gil, from the Barcelona-based Cases team which redesigned The Independent earlier this year.

Davies says: "He is a very talented designer and has a tough act to follow. For three of the four years I have been editing, The Independent on Sunday has been named best-designed Sunday newspaper in the world. I've no doubt he will be able to continue that tradition."

Sports coverage will be "very beefy" and will start on the back page of the main section, where Davies believes readers will find it most easily.

ABC, The Independent on Sunday's arts and culture supplement, will remain largely the same. "We are the only paper that offers every week original fiction as part of the books coverage," he says. "It's fantastic to have a stand-alone magazine to cover arts, books and culture and we remain committed to the arts."

Although the change of format is revolutionary in the Sunday market, Davies has avoided a wholesale reinvention of the paper. "There's an awful lot of rubbish talked about editing and new packages. People talk about 'putting fizz back' into papers. About papers needing to be like a good dinner party. I don't subscribe to the 'department of wizard wheezes' school of journalism," Davies complains. "What I'm trying to do with all areas of the paper is completely reinvigorate them. I don't think that things need reinventing."

Not having more sections is a good thing, he says. "The paper is both substantial and compact but there aren't too many bits of The Independent on Sunday that you'd want to chuck out," says Davies. Denied the circulation lift of switching to a compact, the paper is currently about 55,000 sales behind The Independent and Davies is hoping to attract some of those readers.

"I'm in a stronger position than [ Independent editor-in-chief] Simon [Kelner] who had to take his readers into the compact form. It was a gradual process," says Davies. "I think our readers are expecting us to do it, the market is certainly expecting us to do it, and it gives us an opportunity to be much bolder."

He says it was "most important" that The Independent on Sunday was the first in its market to change size but notes that The Observer is due to follow its sister paper The Guardian in switching to a Berliner size, in January ("or, I suspect, sooner"). "I'm not too worried about The Observer," he says. "We have to concentrate on our own game."

Significantly, The Independent on Sunday's switch to compact will be backed by a major marketing campaign, including television advertising. Davies says he cannot remember seeing television ads for the IoS before. "One of the things I'm most proud about during my editorship is that during the past 18 months we have maintained absolutely rock-steady circulation and yet we have had next to nothing spent on us in marketing and promotion," he says. "We have remained strong through our journalism. What ultimately sells the newspaper is what you put in it."

The switch to compact has been a while in the offing and Davies admits: "It has been frustrating watching the daily newspaper getting to grips with a fantastic new format and making such a success of it. But you have to be patient. Our moment has come and we are going to make the most of it."

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