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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 October 2004, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK
Death of the broadsheet?
By Torin Douglas
BBC media correspondent

Newspaper rack outside newsagent
The new, 'compact' Times is expected to boost sales
The Times took many by surprise with its announcement that it was abandoning its broadsheet format after 216 years.

Few thought it would risk alienating so many of its loyal readers, such as the one who e-mailed me within minutes of the announcement.

"Good God!" she wrote, "How come the readers haven't been informed? Pity the poor newsagents getting the invective on Monday morning. Watch the circulation fall."

This Times reader had first contacted

me in June, when her newsagent told her the broadsheet version of the paper "hadn't come". Only the tabloid edition. For three days in a row.

This at a suburban commuter station in Surrey, heartland Times and Telegraph territory.

Cutting costs

On the third day he told her "The Times is no longer published as a broadsheet."

When she said that wasn't the case, he said: "That's what they told us."

It has been obvious for many months that The Times management has been itching to go totally tabloid (or completely 'compact', to use its preferred term).

The extra cost of producing two versions each day has been prohibitively high.

In recent months, it has phased out the broadsheet edition in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the West Country.

Since then, it says, its sales in those areas have grown substantially.

But those regions are not the paper's heartland. The Times may have attracted new readers in those parts of Britain, but it also risked losing relatively few.

That's not the case in London and the South East, where it has many thousands of existing readers to disgruntle. Will they switch size - or switch newspaper?

This is the crucial question for all the upmarket titles over the coming months.

And if the smaller Times does win over the diehards, could it spell the death of the broadsheet?

The Independent, which pioneered the switch to compact and soon abandoned its broadsheet version, has been rewarded with a sales increase of over 20 per cent.

Its example has been followed outside London by the Scotsman and other titles.

Sunday papers

The Guardian has also announced plans to reduce its page size.

It will switch to the Berliner format preferred by Continental papers such as France's Le Monde and Spain's El Pais.

It has ordered the presses but they'll take time to arrive, during which period it will remain a broadsheet with tabloid supplements.

The Daily Telegraph, under its new owners the Barclay Brothers and new management team, is considering its position.

Some on the paper believe that 'compact' is the future and the paper should embrace the concept, in order to attract new and younger readers.

Others think its strong position among older, well-off and Conservative readers means it would be folly to switch - and that The Times's decision gives it a great opportunity to mop up hundreds of abandoned broadsheet readers.

Whatever the Daily Telegraph decides, the chances are that the broadsheet format will not disappear in the foreseeable future, if only because of the Sunday papers.

If the Sunday Times and its fellow broadsheets went tabloid they would become even more unwieldy than they are at present.

And as long as the broadsheet exists, there will be many who prefer its greater flexibility of layout, larger pictures and - in many cases - larger typesize. They won't be afraid to say so.

Pity the poor newsagent.

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