Smart thinking is the key to a stylish press

Don't write off newspapers, says Tyler Brûlé, founder of 'Wallpaper*' and 'Monocle'. Titles from Italy to Japan have embraced modern design to remain essential reading
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The Independent Online

Print media might be faced with some serious challenges but it's time to stop calling its relevance into question – that goes for newspapers too. In many markets the humble daily has never looked so good, in others there's a bit of work to be done. If it was our money and we were going to launch the Monocle Daily, we'd be taking our cues from our favourite Italian broadsheet.

Italian television has a lot to answer for. All those jiggling variety show hostesses, shouting newsreaders, marathon talk shows, long-winded interviewers and badly dubbed TV shows make us forget about all the good things about Italian media - excellence in book publishing, great filmmaking, mouthwatering magazines and innovative newspapers. Whether it's a complete media package like business daily Il Sole 24 Ore and its pacy, smart radio channel or the timeless layouts of La Repubblica's D magazine supplement or the power packed by the Corriere della Sera, Italy's print media doesn't get the attention it deserves.

While the Spanish win awards for their outstanding information graphics and the British continue to congratulate themselves for thinking they do journalism best, the Italians go about the task of publishing dailies in a way which offers considerable inspiration for other markets.

The weekend supplement line-up from Italy's two biggest papers puts all UK supplements to shame. From Corriere delle Sera's Style supplement for men to their IO Donna title, it makes the efforts of the UK press look cheap and amateurish.

Perhaps one of the most arresting and innovative publishing models is Il Foglio from Milan/Rome. While its circulation and pagination may be small (10,000 copies a day in a 12-page format), its influence is considerable and its concept thoroughly modern. A broadsheet in the truest sense of the word, Il Foglio's dense cover and bulleted columns recall the old US edition of The Wall Street Journal and early examples of The Independent. Built around interviews, features, comment and opinion, a normal edition might only boast one full page ad over a 12 or 16 page book.

The design of the paper says smart in a subtle, understated way and its limited distribution make it more than just a media brand – it's also a clever accessory to be clutched alongside a well-worn Valextra briefcase or tucked neatly into a Loro Piana storm jacket. Focused firmly at an elite audience who want to read, Il Foglio offers up many answers for the newspaper proprietor who's not sure how modernise or refocus his daily.

While the articles may not be short, the overall package is tight – despite the broadsheet format. From the front cover through to the back, the design is classic without being fussy and the choice of stories is a hard to beat combination of all the necessary topics with a healthy smattering of the off and eclectic. In total, it's a format that's wholly unique to the Italian market but could easily work elsewhere.

For consumers who like the front section of the FT but can live without the Companies & Markets section or for people who only visit 10 pages of The New York Times on any given day, Il Foglio has all the attributes to make it a media adjective, just like "Berliner" has come to define a format that many titles across Europe have adopted.

The November issue of Monocle offered an exclusive peek into the re-engineering of one of the world's most respected newspaper brands, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and also took the opportunity to see who else is challenging the now over-played "newspapers are dead" mantra. In The Netherlands, NRC Next is showing there is a way to fight off freesheets by taking the high ground with both pricing and content. In Japan, the Sankei Express is playing with everything from paper to design to distribution model to reach an underserved audience of 20-30-year-olds.

A mix of all of these could be just what the UK market needs. This newspaper, in its early format, was addressing many of the issues that are now more urgent for readers and advertisers alike. With so much content out there, the idea of a leaner, more focused daily briefing is exactly what the UK market needs at the moment – not more volume.

Advertisers are looking for stand-out and exclusivity, so too are readers. Does carrying a copy of any of the dailies really make a strong statement anymore? At the top end of the market, is there not an opportunity to sell on the quality of readers rather than the overall number?

The FT is the closest thing the UK has to a global daily but given the UK's shifting demographic (a more international, diverse society) and that the average resident in this country is travelling more than ever before, there's room for an existing publisher to either re-invent their title to own this market or for a courageous group of investors to launch a new one. A scan of this country's dailies reveals that media owners pay little attention to the fact that London is filled with hundreds of thousands of "high net worths" who don't really care for either The Guardian or The Daily Telegraph. By ignoring this lucrative, international segment a lot money is being left on the table at media buying agencies across the capital.

In one of our earlier business plans we toyed with the idea of making Monocle a weekly but ultimately ended up with our current 10 times a year frequency. Having conducted our print survey however we feel that the newspaper sector is so dynamic and offers so much opportunity that there's plenty of room for the savvy and brave to shake things up. The Monocle Daily may not turning up in your letterbox just yet but it has got us thinking.

* Yomiuri Shimbun – Japan

Fourteen million copies a day. Wow!

* Il Foglio – Italy

The perfect size – and an elegant accessory

* The Sydney Morning Herald – Australia

* Sumptuous property section.

* NRC Handelsblad – Holland

For its serious good looks.

* NRC Next – Holland

For its youthful good looks.

* Il Sole 24 Ore – Italy

Pace and depth coverage of Italy Incorporated.

* Süddeutsche Zeitung –Germany

For its quirky, refreshing Fridaysupplement.

* Neue Zürcher Zeitung – Switzerland

Doing things its own way for 227 years.

* The Financial Times – UK

Front-page carries column for a global snapshot.

* Presso – Finland

A different take on a weekend edition.

This is a version of an article that appears in the November issue of Monocle magazine ( www.monocle.com). The magazine is on sale from Thursday.

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