Newsletter No 21 07 March 2006
 
Editorial & Content:
The Format Change: Getting it Right

The shift from broadsheet newspapers to tabloid has gained unstoppable momentum internationally, but there is more to the process than simply changing the size of the page.

Editorial standards are paramount, and commercial factors must also be carefully analyzed, said Marc Sands, director of marketing at the UK’s Guardian newspaper that recently switched from broadsheet to the smaller ‘Berliner’ format.

Sands was speaking at a workshop on format change at the Middle East Publishing Conference in Dubai, where he told delegates that tabloid format had become synonymous with lurid and sensational journalism, while broadsheets retained a more considered and conservative style – the two versions characterizing opposite ends of the social, political, and intellectual spectrum.

But when the UK’s Independent switched to tabloid, followed quickly by The Times of London, the old rules had changed forever. Sales of The Independent soared, as did profitability.

Unlike its major competitors, that made a switch to tabloid under intense pressure on circulation, The Guardian took a more measured approach to change, said Sands. Extensive consultation with readers, advertisers, and agencies preceded the final decision.

The result was adoption of the ‘Berliner’ format – popular in Europe but not in the UK. The page is bigger than tabloid but smaller than broadsheet, offering the physical convenience and manageability of tabloid, but retaining greater flexibility in layout and presentation.

The first fruits are already showing, with circulation figures up by 30,000 to 35,000 a day since the change was implemented.

"Surveys show that readers everywhere prefer a smaller size,” he said. "This used to be attributed to commuter convenience and the difficulties of reading a broadsheet on a bus or train, but the greatest circulation gains are being made by weekend editions when commuting is not a factor.

“Confirmed broadsheet buyers are all in the 55-65 age group or upwards, but younger generations clearly want their news in a more manageable package.”