Forty-one days. When The Independent pulled off its tabloid masterstroke at the end of September, its editor Simon Kelner knew that he would only have a limited number of days to prove that it would work. He also knew that his competitors would not stand still if it did.
And although he must be slightly miffed that his compact version only hit the streets 41 times before the first retaliatory salvo was fired, it is of course the sincerest form of flattery that a rival should be so quick to imitate.
What won’t have surprised him is that the finger on the trigger belongs to Rupert Murdoch.
The Times’s ultimate chief is one of the most important figures in The Indy’s history. A decade ago, his flagship broadsheet was within a few thousand copies of being overtaken by the surging Independent.
Down went The Thunderer’s price. Up went its sale.
Up for sale went The Indy when it couldn’t compete.
This time, Murdoch isn’t going to take a chance at letting the upstart get anywhere near so close. And so Robert Thomson’s copycat compact arrives on the increasingly cluttered newsagents’ stands this week.
He knows that, in the long run, being first out of the blocks is not always the key to winning the race (Betamax, anyone?).
Will Kelner’s eight-week head start be enough? Will Telegraph and Guardian executives allow another 40 days and nights in the broadsheet desert to pass before they pull up a chair at the tabloid table? Time – and The Times – will tell.
One thing’s for sure, either way. The quality compact ain’t no flash in the pan.