The Media Column: 'We are the first to take the plunge. Who knows where it will lead?'

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It was an after-dinner speaker - Rory Bremner, I think - who remarked on the way attitudes have changed. He was addressing an audience of executives from the mobile-phone industry. "And there I was in a room with 100 men, all of them boasting about how theirs was the smallest."

Size, you may well have noticed this morning, matters. If you live in the Greater London area, there is a good chance that you are reading these words in the very first edition of the new-look tabloid version of The Independent.

I call it "new-look", but, in fact, everyone who has been working on the tabloid has been striving to keep it looking as similar as possible to its big daddy. The idea is that when you see it on the news-stand, you will immediately recognise it as The Independent. That is why its masthead - the announcement at the top of the front page that tells you which paper you are reading - is identical to the original, as are all the other typefaces in the paper. That is why every story in the big paper is carried in the little paper - word for word, give or take a sentence or two. That is why the new baby has the same voice as its parent; more than that, you might say it has the same genetic fingerprint.

The Independent - which was the first new broadsheet paper for 131 years when it was launched, in 1986 - is now the first British paper available in two formats.

So how did we arrive at today's paper? The idea of a tabloid side by side with a broadsheet first came to the editor-in-chief, Simon Kelner, about 18 months ago. He was wandering around the supermarket when it dawned on him that all sorts of products - toothpaste, chocolate bars - are offered to consumers in all types of packaging. The Colgate you get in a pump dispenser is the same reliable Colgate that comes out of a traditional tube. Focus groups had consistently pointed to the fact that some potential newspaper-readers, particularly commuters and women, loved the idea of an upmarket morning paper but found broadsheets inconvenient. Why, reasoned Kelner, could newspapers not offer readers the choice that they are used to in other areas of life?

Kelner's first instinct was to approach a couple of outside design consultancies. Asked to come up with "blue-sky" designs for a tabloid Independent, they did just that. The papers they created looked arresting, but nothing like the paper you are reading today. "I was very seduced by certain elements of them," Kelner says. But something wasn't quite right. He consulted Ivan Fallon, the newly arrived chief executive at The Independent. Fallon says: "I felt very strongly that they didn't work - because they did not look like The Independent. It would have been as if we were launching a new paper."

Kelner says: "That was a very good call. I did not need persuading. I needed bringing back to the original idea, and it needed Ivan to make that call." So Fallon and Kelner agreed that the trick would be to translate the existing broadsheet into a tabloid, not to start from scratch.

Fallon took the idea to Sir Tony O'Reilly, executive chairman of Independent News & Media plc, in January, when executives from the company were gathering for a regular meeting at O'Reilly's home in Lyford Cay, in the Bahamas.

Meanwhile, work continued in London - and the design was brought in house, under the art director, Kevin Bayliss, who came up with pretty much what you are looking at today.

Fallon took the new dummies to O'Reilly six weeks ago. The boss fell in love with what he saw and agreed to provide the extra investment needed - £3m has been reported - and the button was pressed.

All that remained to be sorted out was the start date. O'Reilly wanted to see the tabloid begin as soon as possible - he suggested mid-September. Voices back home in The Independent's Docklands HQ, mindful of the logistical difficulties involved in liaising with nearly 7,000 newsagents, pressed for a mid-October start date. So a compromise was reached: today.

Fingers are being crossed this morning. I know my bosses are reading this, and it is not therefore the bravest claim I will ever make, but I think that there is an air of optimism today: the sense that we could be on the brink of something very exciting.

Who knows where it will lead? Perhaps other titles will follow where this paper has gone. Certainly many have considered such a move. The great Peter Preston wanted to launch a mini-Guardian when he was editor, a decade ago, but was thwarted by his board; The Daily Telegraph, too, has periodically experimented with dummies of a tabloid version.

But we are the first to take the plunge. "We could be on the verge of creating an entirely new market for newspapers that has never existed before," Fallon says. We shall see.

v.graff@independent.co.uk

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