Here is the other news: small continues to be beautiful

On The Press: As the broadsheets are beached, the latest circulation figures show compacts pulling ahead while the overall market for qualities goes up

A lot of newspapers enter my home, for obvious reasons; and of course some time later they have to leave again. The green boxes must be driven to the tip, to its recycling skip, together with the last of last autumn's leaves and the wine bottles. As I post the papers through the slot in the side of the skip, I reflect that they may be dying - as I seem to read somebody saying each week - but that there's certainly plenty of them around, and they're certainly making a lot of noise.

As the discarded DVDs go through the slot, I think of the frenzy since Christmas. A new Observer, a new Observer women's magazine, endless DVDs, Mozart's 250th birthday CDs, playing cards you have to match to ensure the Mail gives you lots of money, French courses, Spanish courses, restaurant offers, travel offers. It all costs a lot of money - and a lot more to market the offers and so make sure the public know the gifts are there.

Then, once a month, the was-it-worth-it? test comes round, as editors and their chief executives study the audited circulation figures. Has all this effort made a difference? As has been the case for two years or so, much attention, and spending, is concentrated at the upper end of the market, where papers shrink and circulations grow; or do they? And what we find with the latest figures is that the quality dailies, lumped together, sold about 30,000, or 1 per cent, more copies in January 2006 than they did in January 2005, and the quality Sundays sold about 110,000 more copies, or 3.8 per cent. In the mid- and tabloid market sectors, sales were significantly down.

We have been talking about the quality dailies for some time now, ever since The Independent changed the world by going compact. But over the past few months, apart from the launch of the downsized Guardian - well up year-on-year ever since its relaunch - the change arena has moved to Sundays. Again The Independent, in its Sunday guise, led the way by adopting the compact size. It was followed by a repackaged, but still broadsheet, Sunday Telegraph, and then, at the beginning of January, by The Observer taking on the Berliner (midway) format of The Guardian.

At this point I should properly (if unnecessarily, given that you are probably aware of what paper you are reading at this moment) declare an interest. This column appears in The Independent on Sunday, and it would be hard for me to talk about the Sunday quality paper market without considering the IoS.

I often remark here that we should not pay too much attention to the first month or so of sales in the smaller format, but wait for them to settle down after the early sampling brought about by novelty, costly promotion and marketing come-ons. That must still be the health warning, but we have in the IoS and Observer two papers that must be regarded as competitors, both recently downsized, the first in October, the second just a month ago, and both registering stand-out figures this weekend. The IoS's sale over the past three months, all in the new compact format, compared with the same month a year ago (broadsheet), were +6.3 per cent, +7.2 per cent and, in the latest (January) figures, +16.9 per cent. The Observer's corresponding figures, first two broadsheet, latest Berliner were -5.0 per cent, -0.8 per cent, +21.3 per cent.

Quite clearly, both launches have been highly successful, achieving the sort of figures last seen when the daily Independent first went compact. Interestingly, the Observer's dramatic lift came right out of the starting blocks, while the IoS is accelerating over the months. Was there something special about January? Certainly there was plenty of news, from the sad end of the whale in the Thames to the sad end of Mark Oaten's Liberal leadership campaign and the trials of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair. The Observer had its art-movie TV advertising campaign, its new women's magazine and its relaunch. The IoS has had a steady run of good news stories, and I sense was itself surprised by the sales effect of its two learn-a-language books, each coupled with a CD in the previous day's Independent.

Both editors will be cheerful; Sarah Sands, editor of The Sunday Telegraph, will be less so. Her relaunch soon after she took over the editorship came shortly after the IoS's. The paper remained broadsheet but went soft and cuddly and women friendly, with a magazine called Stella and the editor herself saying her paper would be "like a party". The Sunday Telegraph's year-on-year figures over the past three months, all after the party had started: +3.0 per cent, -6.6 per cent and, latest, -1.4 per cent. That represents a relaunch with problems.

I have left The Sunday Times to one side simply because it is far away the market leader, with its sale almost constantly between 1.3 and 1.4 million. Last month it did lose sale a little. I mention this not because it was significant but because it allows me to say that the two Sunday quality broadsheets - one dominant, one relaunched - are down, while the two recently downsized have done quite remarkably well so far. It is a pattern with the compact revolution.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

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