The compacts must look ahead and wonder. The red tops must look back and shudder

There's no escaping the latest circulation figures - and running and hiding is exactly what some titles will want to do
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The Independent Online

The compact revolution began on 30 September last year. That Tuesday morning the downsized Independent went on sale alongside the broadsheet version. It already looks old-fashioned against today's compact and its poster front pages with attitude.

The compact revolution began on 30 September last year. That Tuesday morning the downsized Independent went on sale alongside the broadsheet version. It already looks old-fashioned against today's compact and its poster front pages with attitude.

The first time that audited circulation data was published showing compact performance was this time last year, when the figures for October 2003 were released. As is now well known, there was an appetite for the compact. The Independent, having seen its sale decline, suddenly started to sell more copies, and continued to do so month by month.

Now there are moments of reckoning. For the first time this month we are making comparisons with a year-ago figure when the compact was on sale, rather than comparing current compact with year-ago broadsheet. No longer will we see in the year-on-year column, where the last month's sale is compared with the same month a year ago, the sort of figures - like 20 per cent - that have made the paper such a talking point, and caused so much format debate across the industry. From now on that year-on-year figure will be more modest because the sudden surge brought about by the format change is over.

There will be other key moments of comparison. The Times produced a compact a few weeks after The Independent, so its current figures compare compact with broadsheet. And there are those moments when first The Independent and then The Times ceased production of the broadsheet version altogether - The Times only on 1 November.

So what do we see as we look out on the compact landscape, a year after quality tabloids began? We see a national daily newspaper market in which nine out of 12 titles sold fewer copies in October 2004 than they did in October 2003. We see 10 out of 12 titles selling fewer copies over the six-month period May to October 2004 than over the corresponding period a year ago. In both cases the papers that have bucked the trend and increased sale are The Times and The Independent. (The Financial Times sold an extra 1,000 copies in the first comparison).

The Times is up four per cent in the year-on-year figures, three and a half per cent with the sales over six month periods. The corresponding figures for The Independent are 13 per cent and 19 per cent.

The upmarket papers that remain broadsheet, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, continue to suffer, both recording negative figures in both comparison columns. But this is true of 10 nationals, and the situation is more dramatic in some areas than others.

The traditional red-top tabloid sector is one. Which- ever way you read the figures, the Daily Mirror is in crisis. It sold 173,000 fewer copies last month than a year ago - that's a decline of about 7.4 per cent. The Sun was five per cent down, 180,000 copies. The figures are at least as dramatic on Sundays, the traditional day when all sectors of society read the dirty papers. The dominant title for so many decades, the News of the World, is still dominant, but its sale is down nearly seven per cent on a year ago, or 265,000 copies. The People is down nearly 10 per cent, currently the worst figure for any mainstream newspaper. The situation must be concerning both News International, publishers of The Sun and News of the World, and Trinity Mirror, publishers of the Daily Mirror and The People.

To make them feel even worse I checked out the sales of these papers in the same month 10 years ago. Daily Mirror 2.55 million in October 1994, 1.77 million today; The Sun 4.06 million (3.28 million); News of the World 4.86 million (3.78 million); The People 2.08 million (1.01 million).

Two of the most popular Sunday newspapers ever have lost more than two million in sales between them in 10 years. That's a crisis.

¿ Some "news" stories are so good they have to be repeated. I didn't immediately react to the Mail's lead story last Wednesday. After all "Wonder Pill - it stops smoking, drinking and even reduces your weight" (the headline) is just another example of the Miracle Cure genre of medical journalism that is so popular today. Then I remembered a column I wrote here in early September.

This was provoked by a lead story in The Daily Telegraph. "Wonder pill cuts obesity and smoking" was the headline.

The story was all about a new drug called Accomplia. The Mail story was also about Accomplia. Telegraph, 30 August; Mail, 10 November. Equal prominence; same story. The Mail reported that Accomplia "could" play a key role in preventing a range of ailments - heart disease, diabetes, strokes and other major health problems. The Telegraph said the same. It said the drug could be available in two years. So did the Daily Mail.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

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