Anything look familiar?

When The Independent launched its quality compact edition last September, broadsheet newspaper publishers across the world took note. Louis Jebb reports on the domino effect across Europe
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The Independent Online

The Russian newspaper executives huddled excitedly around a table. Before them were two copies of The Independent - the respective broadsheet and compact versions of that day's paper - surrounded by its main London rivals, laid out for comparison. It was a curious and arresting spectacle for the delegation of Spanish media consultants who had arrived at the offices of Izvestia, Russia's leading quality daily, to give a presentation on format and design to the Russian Guild of Press Publishers.

The Russian newspaper executives huddled excitedly around a table. Before them were two copies of The Independent - the respective broadsheet and compact versions of that day's paper - surrounded by its main London rivals, laid out for comparison. It was a curious and arresting spectacle for the delegation of Spanish media consultants who had arrived at the offices of Izvestia, Russia's leading quality daily, to give a presentation on format and design to the Russian Guild of Press Publishers.

The first subject of discussion that day was how Russian newspapers should react to the revolution The Independent had launched in the British market - becoming the first dual-format newspaper and then the first quality compact paper in Britain - which over the past nine months has changed the paper's fortunes and made it the subject of widespread imitation in the global media industry.

One British title, The Times, and three European newspapers - in Belgium, Switzerland and Germany - have already followed The Independent and its sister paper The Irish Independent in becoming dual-format publications. Egypt's most respected title, Al Ahram, has considered following suit. Izvestia is reported to be planning to become a dual-format paper. And a raft of Scandinavian quality broadsheet titles are preparing to go straight to a compact format later this year or early in 2005. When Norway's largest paper, Aftenposten, announced it was to go compact, the shares of its owners soared.

Especially intriguing is the example provided by Welt Kompakt. Published in Berlin by Axel Springer, who also have Bild, the biggest-selling popular paper in Europe, in their stable, it is produced each day using a digest of stories and pictures taken from the group's august broadsheet titles Die Welt and the Berliner Morgenpost. It is deliberately aimed at younger readers, produced with different presentational values to those of its feeder titles, and sold at a deliberately low price of 50 cents.

The lesson for Russian publishers, according to Eugene Abov, the vice-president of the Guild of Periodical Press Publishers (Russia), is that, "not only content and the newspaper's correspondents (as was commonly believed) but also the size and design of the newspaper matter to consumers and make a difference when attracting new readers. Before The Independent's project, hardly anyone thought about this [in Russia]."

For some media consultants, a trend towards compact papers, quality and popular, has been accelerated by the example of The Independent. For Chico Amaral, director of the leading newspaper consultancy, Cases of Barcelona, "the domino effect started by The Independent is unstoppable. It was not only a quality newspaper turning tabloid, but doing it in an innovative manner that took advantage of technological tools that are now available in newspapers around the globe... The results speak for themselves, and their message is crucial for some of the biggest challenges newspapers face: attracting women and young readers."

In the past few months, The Independent has received invitations to design congresses and seminars around the world, and has been visited by a stream of international newspaper executives. During these visits and seminars, the hardened questioners reveal themselves immediately by brushing past the glamorous questions of presentation - of how computer systems and page designs could be adjusted to produce the same paper, with the same character, in a smaller size. They head straight for the hard commercial questions: how the paper's advertisers - the main source of any title's revenue - were persuaded to see some of their adverts published in a smaller size, and how the wholesalers and newsagents were educated in the ways of displaying and selling a dual-format newspaper.

At the World Association of Newspapers congress in Istanbul earlier this summer, the most animated questioning followed the presentations given by Simon Kelner, editor-in-chief of The Independent and the paper's managing director, Terry Grote.

The success of the experiment has appealed to other quality newspapers as a way of leaping into other market areas, grabbing for readers who would never have bought their title in the broadsheet format, but has also appealed to popular titles that needed a new way to boost circulation, and for whom a dual-format paper appealed as an attractive promotional tool to counter the threat of "metro" freesheets in urban areas.

The Times falls into the first category. It became a dual-format newspaper in December. "If I had done it I'd have been ridiculed for debasing The Times," Rupert Murdoch, head of NewsCorp, said. "But I'm glad The Independent has gone ahead because now we can try it." The ridicule he referred to was the historic fear which had previously prevented British quality broadsheet papers from switching to a tabloid format. It was a strategy which had long been considered by newspaper groups in Britain as a potential reader-grabber but one that was not previously taken up for fear of alienating long-standing and conservative readers.

In the second category comes Blick, the largest-selling national newspaper in Switzerland, and the first title to visit our offices following the launch of the dual-format paper. Blick is a popular title, and rare in its country for its nationwide distribution. The idea of a dual-format paper appealed to them as a marketing counter to the "metro" phenomenon. Their historic format, slightly smaller than broadsheet, was joined this May by a half-size compact, smaller than the traditional British tabloid.

Rolf Cavalli, deputy editor-in-chef of Blick, said his visit to The Independent to watch the compact being produced was both eye-opening and crucial to the successful evolution of his own paper. "It was immediately evident that the writing staff took no notice of the daily transformation of the newspaper," he says. "Looking at the production process of The Independent it became clear to us that we had to focus on the lay-out and production section."

Cavalli says he quickly learnt that in the early days after changing formats it was especially important to keep the industry talking about the paper on a daily basis.

"We learnt that it was essential to create a media interest for our two-format edition every day anew. Indeed, it turned out that the high level of media interest in our two formats generated more articles and newscasts and increased the interest in our progress."

A QUESTION OF FORMAT

30 September 2003

The Independent becomes the first dual-format newspaper

December 2003

The Times goes dual-format

21 January 2004

The Belgian regional Gazet van Antwerpen goes dual-format, switching to compact format only in March

February 2004

The Irish Independent launches a compact edition, adding 10 per cent to sales

6 March 2004

The Scotsman launches a Saturday compact edition

May 2004

Switzerland's largest-selling title, Blick, goes dual-format

24 May 2004

Axel Springer, the German publisher, launches trial for Welt Kompakt, taking stories from its broadsheets, Die Welt and the Berliner Morgenpost

17 May 2004

The Independent drops broadsheet format and becomes the first quality compact newspaper

June 2004

The Guardian and The Observer will adopt Le Monde-size format in 2006

Autumn 2004

Three of Sweden's main newspapersplan to go compact

January 2005

Norway's leading daily, Aftenposten, plans to go compact

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