The Independent this week became a tabloid newspaper that also comes in a broadsheet format as sales of the compact version overtook the full-size for the first time.
Editor Simon Kelner said he had still to reach the “tipping point” where the broadsheet was dumped altogether. But that point is likely to get closer this weekend when the paper switches to compact-only on Saturdays.
The Independent claims to have reversed seven years of decline in terms of market share since the launch of its Monday-to-Friday tabloid on 30 September. It is now the fastest-growing broadsheet, with newsagent sales up 12.85 per cent year-on-year in December to a total of 237,816 (including bulks).
So it is not surprising that Press Gazette found Kelner in buoyant mood ahead of this weekend’s launch.
He said: “A lot of people here have been on the paper for a long time and it’s been a difficult time – and I speak with some authority on that. Now that we’ve turned the corner, people have a real spring in their step.
“We are also talked about in a completely different way from how we’ve been traditionally talked about in the industry.
What’s been gratifying about the success of the compact is that it’s made people realise what a good newspaper The Independent is.”
Kelner said production constraints meant launching a two-size Indy was out of the question on Saturdays so it had to be all or nothing.
Explaining his decision to take the plunge, he said: “I’d been struck by the number of readers who have written to me asking why they can’t get the compact on a Saturday. I’ve also been struck by my own anecdotal evidence of being in a newsagent on a Saturday on several occasions when somebody has seen the broadsheet and asked for the compact – they have then walked out without buying a paper.”
Kelner has also been influenced by the fact that, since the launch of the compact, weekday sales have been higher than Saturday sales for the first time in his editorship.
All the broadsheets sell significantly more on Saturdays than they do during the week and Kelner is keen to tap into this bigger “more promiscuous” market.
The main change to the existing Saturday package is the addition of a 32-page magazine called The Independent Traveller. The Save & Spend personal finance supplement has been expanded and changed to tabloid format, as has sport, which is now in the main news section.
The Independent Magazine and The Information listings supplement have been retained.
Charlotte Ross, assistant editor at The Scotsman, has been recruited to be in charge of Saturday features. Deborah Orr has been commissioned to write a new column and John Walsh is to write a diary.
Kelner described The Independent Traveller as the first weekly travel magazine in the country and said: “Travel has ranked highly in all our reader research. Simon Calder is one of our most recognised writers and our advertising department is very excited about it too.”
The launch of the mini-Indy has led to around a dozen full-time staff being taken on and the cost to the company has been estimated at in excess of £5m so far.
It is now available in 85 per cent of the country and Kelner said he planned to expand circulation to the remaining areas of Scotland, Wales, the West Country and Ireland as soon as possible.
The launch of the Saturday compact keeps The Independent one step ahead of The Times, which launched its tabloid version inside the M25 in November and has since expanded distribution to much of the rest of the country.
Shrinking its much bulkier Saturday package into tabloid format is likely to be a more difficult proposition.
Veteran Fleet Street editor Bernard Shrimsley said last week in Press Gazette that it took the Daily Mail a thousand issues to develop its now all-conquering tabloid format.
Kelner admitted it would take time for the mini-Indy to finds its voice.
He said: “We are still having a debate about whether the features section should be a discrete pullout rather than included in the run of pages. We are continually revising the way that we do things.
“Newspapers aren’t born with a personality and a character, they develop them over the years. It will take time for the compact to settle down and find its true range, but we are confident that we’ll get there.”