The Guardian won't. The Telegraph can't. But can they afford not to?

Our new commentator analyses the latest quality newspaper circulation figures
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Compact wars are hotting up, as this weekend's audited circulation figures show. Compacts are "little" quality newspapers, tabloid sized, but we mustn't use the word.

Compact wars are hotting up, as this weekend's audited circulation figures show. Compacts are "little" quality newspapers, tabloid sized, but we mustn't use the word.

The battle joined by The Independent and The Times last year is becoming embedded in the national newspaper culture. What was an intriguing and bold experiment, led by the newspaper with the least to lose - The Independent has the lowest circulation in what we once called the broadsheet market - is now causing endless debate within the sector's four newspapers (excluding the Financial Times as a specialist title).

The UK quality newspaper market has had very occasional, seismic shake-ups. News instead of small ads on the front page. Big pictures instead of only columns of print. And now, as the architects would say, the smaller footprint. Two quality broadsheets are producing compact versions: The Independent, which did it first, and The Times.

The Independent, coming from a lower base, has done very well out of its compact. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations figures just published, its gross sale last month was 256,378, an increase of 15.2 per cent on the February 2003 sale. Comparative figures show the Times sale down 2.2 per cent, the Telegraph's down 2.3 per cent and the Guardian's down 9.6 per cent.

Put another way, the sales gap between The Independent and The Guardian, the two smaller selling papers of the four, and the two left-of-centre titles, has closed from 186,000 a year ago to 113,000 today. That's a big change, and may relate to the fact that The Guardian, like the Telegraph, has not taken the compact route. The Telegraph has produced dummy compacts, but the paper is in limbo between owners and would not be expected to take the dramatic step of reformatting at such a time. It is debatable whether Telegraph readers would go for a littl'un. But it was The Guardian that led the way in making all its supplements tabloid, and there have been discussions of varying intensity at the paper for years about making the main section tabloid.

The Guardian is said to have been looking at alternatives, like a bigger compact. But this would take time, and different production arrangements.

So, two broadsheets and two with compacts: the purists might say that the only thing that really matters is the quality of the content; the real-worlders would say that the packaging matters too. The current evidence is that the real-worlders have the wind behind them.

Glover, a man for all seasons

Stephen Glover, who has ambitions to start a new, very upmarket, very low circulation daily newspaper, is probably the greatest declarer of interests that journalism has yet seen. He really ought to become an MP, where he could spend most of his life writing in the Register of Members' Interests, rather than in the Daily Mail or The Spectator.

He has a problem, in that being a man of unchallenged rectitude employed by The Spectator to comment on media affairs, yet at the same time being a media affair himself, he is tying himself in knots, as he declares. His device is to say that the editor Boris Johnson begged him to write about his putative newspaper venture. He then reluctantly spends a page selling the idea, declaring interests and wondering whether he should suspend the column while he raises his millions. (No.)

It's all very tricky for him. He says that his affection for The Daily Telegraph, which owns The Spectator, is inexhaustible (sic), giving the clear impression that competing with it would pain him. Such sentimentality, I would have thought, would discourage potential investors in his new organ.

He has a different problem with the Mail, for which he writes a political column. Its owners are in the field to buy the Telegraph. Perhaps Glover's subtle message is that his inexhaustible affection for the Telegraph would be maintained if it were owned by the Mail. This way he keeps all his publishers happy (he once worked for the Telegraph too), while publicising his own publishing venture.

I know he would want it made clear that he was one of the founders of The Independent, and the launch editor of this newspaper.

Max Clifford's celebrity game

My closest encounter with Max Clifford was on a squash court in the Lake District. He was the perfectly attired perfect sportsman. No punching the air or triumphalism when his inevitable victory came. He was simply a good advertisement for middle-aged fitness, and he neither kissed nor told after beating me.

His powers of keeping an absurd number of balls in the air at the same time - and we're no longer talking squash balls - again impressed last week. On successive days he was seen representing not only Pop Idol's Simon Cowell (and telling Piers Morgan all about it on BBC 1's Tabloid Tales) but at least one of the Guantanamo Five, Jamal al-Harith.

Helping both Mr Nasty and Mr Not Nearly As Nasty as the Americans Would Like Us To Think (official - Paddington Green police station) confuses Clifford not at all. One day it is manufacturing a lucrative image for the willing Cowell, the next arranging the sale of Jamal's story to the Daily Mirror - reportedly for £60,000.

After Jamal's two years of incarceration and interrogation in Cuba, I doubt that insults from Cowell when, inevitably, Clifford arranges for Jamal to appear in the next series of Pop Idol, will cause him any disturbance.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

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