BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Monday, 29 September, 2003, 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK
Tabloid transformation
By Myles Neligan
BBC News Online business reporter

Independent
Ready for the mini-Indie?
From Tuesday, Greater London residents will be presented with yet another option in an already richly varied selection of daily newspapers.

The Independent newspaper has chosen the capital as the test market for a new tabloid edition, the latest ploy in the daily's effort to boost its anaemic circulation figures.

The content, editorial style, and 60p cover price of the new publication - billed by the paper as 'Britain's only quality tabloid' - will be exactly the same as its broadsheet namesake's.

But the Independent is hoping that the new paper's easy to handle format will win over fans of serious news among London's army of commuters, many of whom have difficulty grappling with broadsheets on cramped tubes and trains.

"Our readers, particularly those who commute to work, have long expressed a desire for a more convenient format for their newspaper," said Independent editor Simon Kelner.

"From Tuesday, we shall be satisfying that need."

Rave reviews

To begin with, the new-look Independent will be sold alongside its bigger sister in the London area. If the tabloid goes down well in the capital, it will be introduced in other regions at a later date.

The decision to target the commuter market is thought to have been influenced partly by the success of Associated Newspapers' Metro, a daily tabloid distributed free of charge at public transport hubs in several UK cities.

I can't imagine a tabloid version will bring in many new readers
Lorna Tilbian, Numis Securities
Evidence that younger readers - a segment of the market that advertisers are particularly keen to reach - are more likely to read tabloids than traditional broadsheets is also likely to have been a factor.

Encouragingly, the reaction of advertising chiefs who were given a sneak preview of the new-look paper this week was highly enthusiastic.

One executive at advertising agency Mediacom told the Guardian that the new tabloid would appeal to commuters in search of an intelligent read, describing it as a "fantastic idea."

Tabloid gap

Fantastic ideas are just what the Independent needs as it struggles to reverse a decline in sales and put itself back on a firm financial footing after several years of losses.

With a daily circulation of about 180,000, the paper is by far the lowest-selling of the main national broadsheets, and revenues have been hit hard by the downturn in advertising spending.

When set against this unpromising backdrop, the tabloid launch begins to look like a bit of a gamble.

The biggest obstacle the new publication will face is the deep cultural chasm that separates cheap and cheerful tabloids from broadsheets, seen as more highbrow and authoritative.

The mini-Independent may successfully bridge the gap with a winning combination of serious news and reader-friendly formatting.

But experts have warned that it may equally alienate the paper's established readers, leading to a drop in circulation overall.

Tellingly, no other British broadsheet has dared to go tabloid in recent years despite the potential circulation gains, and the Independent's competitors are sure to be watching its experiment with interest.

Counting costs

Some observers believe that the changeover will have little impact on the Independent's overall sales figures, but may help it trim its costs.

"I can't imagine a tabloid version will bring in many new readers," said Lorna Tilbian, print media analyst at Numis Securities.

"They're not changing their positioning and the content will stay the same, so I wouldn't expect it to deter advertisers. But it'll be easier to handle for commuters, and could help save paper costs."

If so, the other broadsheet newspapers will probably conclude that tabloid editions aren't worth the trouble, and will quietly shelve whatever plans they may have had for launching one.

But for the Independent - which has tried a number of strategies to improve its performance with little in the way of results - lower operating costs would count as a solid achievement.

The mini-Independent may yet become a firm fixture on London's congested commuter routes.


SEE ALSO:
Reuters says goodbye to Fleet St
23 Sep 03  |  Business
FT buys stake in Indian paper
19 Sep 03  |  Business
Johnston cautious on ad growth
27 Aug 03  |  Business
Trinity Mirror axes 550 jobs
31 Jul 03  |  Business


RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | World | UK | England | Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales | Politics
Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health | Education
Have Your Say | Magazine | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific