Indy's Extra big read takes on Guardian's 'diminished' G2

By Dominic Ponsford

A year after The Independent’s last top-to-bottom redesign and two years after it completed its switch to tabloid format, editor Simon Kelner is embarking on a "big read" strategy as the latest stage of his permanent revolution at the paper.

Kelner next week launches a 24-page daily feature-led supplement called Extra, which will be based on one weighty piece of journalism of around 5,000 words.

The move is an attack on what is seen by some at The Independent as a weaker Guardian G2 section since its September change to the diminutive half-Berliner format.

And as part of a bid to push Indy circulation through the 260,000 barrier — where it has stubbornly stayed for the past year — Kelner has promised a significant increase in overall pagination with more space for news, business and sport from Tuesday.

The Independent’s new daily pull-out will be based on the existing eight-page Extra section, which has been offering readers an extended read on Fridays for the past three months. Topics tackled so far have included a survey of whether ancient philosophy holds the key to happiness and a feature on "the science of cooking".

Kelner said: "Each day, Extra will have a cover story which will have the same properties as Friday Extra has been having — it will be a big piece of journalism, a major book extract or a piece of original writing."

He said the centrepiece of each day’s Extra "will include everything from a 5,000-word piece by Robert Fisk to lighter, more segmented reads".

The new section will also include arts coverage, health and features.

Kelner said: "It’s a new generation review section. We’ve had a great deal of success with Extra on Fridays and circulation has shown the positive benefits of that.

"We don’t want to stand still, we are constantly looking at ways of improving the paper and innovating."

The move back to a separate features section comes a year after The Independent’s last redesign, when the paper’s second section was dropped and features were incorporated into the main run of news.

Kelner said: "There’s a limit to how much you can get in one section and still make it user-friendly."

It is understood that Independent journalists feel The Guardian’s pioneering tabloid G2 features section has, as one put it, "a diminished presence", since moving to the half-Berliner size.

The latest changes at The Independent come after a year in which Kelner has bolstered his team of writers.

Star signings have included former Sunday Telegraph editor Dominic Lawson, artist Tracey Emin, Matthew Norman, Stephen Glover, Rebecca Tyrell and Helen Fielding.

Kelner said: "The quality compact is still, as a genre, in its infancy.

"We pioneered it in 2003 and we are constantly looking at ways of moving it forward and doing a lot of research.

This is one of the answers we have come up with.

"The format change gives you an instant lift, then it’s all about improving the editorial offering and promoting it and that’s what we are doing."

The latest relaunch is being backed by a major advertising campaign, including TV and outdoor.

The Friday and Saturday editions of The Independent will remain unchanged by the move.

From broadsheet to compact and beyond — Kelner’s strategy

Simon Kelner has been editor of The Independent since 1998, but his revolution at the title began in September 2003, with the unprecedented gambit of bringing out a tabloid version, in addition to the broadsheet main paper, in the London area.

The "compact", as Kelner dubbed it, was initially targeted at commuters, but proved so popular when it was launched elsewhere in the country that the broadsheet was dropped altogether in April 2004.

It was a move which prompted The Times to follow suit into tabloid territory and influenced The Guardian’s decision to switch from broadsheet to in-between Berliner format last September.

A year ago, a redesign of The Independent saw the daily features section dropped and features incorporated more into the main run of pages. The number of news columns per page was also increased from six to seven.

Turning tabloid has increased sales of The Independent from around 220,000 to the current total of 260,000. It has been accompanied by increasing use of concept front pages, which ignore the competing news agenda to make a big statement about one story.

The increase in sales has so far not translated into profitability for the Indy, which has yet to turn a profit since it was bought outright by Tony O’Reilly in 1998.

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