Soon after the launch of The Independent and Times compacts, Brian McArthur suggested in 10 to 20 years, all broadsheets would become tabloid. A brave prediction indeed! One year on, Mr McArthur’s claim does not seem so far fetched at all.
Both titles have managed to arrest notably long-term circulation in one fail swoop, although compared to The Times , The Independent ’s change appears to have been more favourably received by both existing and new readers, if the latest year-on-year ABCs are anything to go by.
Nevertheless, compacts are here to stay with The Times finally taking The Independent ’s lead by going fully compact both nationally and up to and including Saturday publication.
With The Guardian poised to go for the Berliner variant, The Telegraph could get left out in the cold.
Still, it is not too late for The Telegraph to get in on the act. Despite The Times and Independent continuing to eat into both The Telegraph’s (and Guardian ’s) collective share of copy sales, The Telegraph is still the UK’s best selling daily quality by an easy stretch. With a 40% circulation advantage versus its nearest rival, The Telegraph is well poised to stretch its lead by going cute. However, many would debate that such a move could alienate its older, potentially more conservative readership.
Here lies The Telegraph’s golden opportunity to steal a march on its competitors. By observing what has gone before it, The Telegraph is able to benefit from what The Times and Independent learned during their compact launch escapade and thereon. Let’s face it, whether it is on an editorial or even on a trading/ commercial level, fellow media buyers like myself will know that the latter point in itself has turned in to a long running hot potato.
Instead, The Telegraph is forearmed with all these experiences, having witnessed everything from impact of distribution rollout, through to editorial reconfiguration right up to media agency debates and views on the worth of compacts – in advance, it will readily know how to circumvent such issues, making for a smoother all round launch.
For me, the real clincher for The Telegraph would not only be how it wins over its core bank of entrenched readers, but also how it entices newer, younger readers. We already know the compacts have been well received by young, upmarket, urban audiences who appear to prefer this more appealing, convenient package.
No matter how cheesy it may sound, shortly after its London-only inception, I recall describing to a client the Independent Compact as “tubetastic”. The Telegraph could take advantage of homing in on this audience by going compact, while retaining the original broadsheet version for its more hardened following.
Still retaining the key strengths and values of The Telegraph, having dual formats could really give all of The Telegraph’s readers precisely what they want. Sure, two lots of the same title could present a number of logistical hurdles, but ultimately the long-term success of any product is governed by a combination of the correct packaging mixed with the right content that strikes saliency with its audience.
Strictly on a qualitative, repositioning level, it is almost the equivalent of what The Observer went through when acquired by Guardian Media Group back in the mid ’90s. And The Observer has never looked back since.
Over and above this, there are other methods that The Telegraph could exploit. For instance, the way in which the Saturday edition is consumed compared to its weekday editions is quite different. At the weekend, most readers are liable to have more time on their hands and be more relaxed by not having to contend with the week-day commute to work. In turn, this could open up an opportunity for The Telegraph to provide dual editions during the week, but to revert totally to a more luxuriant, indulgent broadsheet format solely for the weekend.
Taking Brian McArthur’s forecast a step further, why prolong the inevitable? Especially when The Telegraph could clean up in terms of form, style and function precisely honed by need state across the week. That would certainly make a compelling case for the Telegraph to reinvent itself in part as a Compact like no other Quality Compact before.
Sanjay Shabi is press director at MediaCom
To go compact or not to go compact? When The Independent went compact in September 2003, for all the squawking over prices and loss of impact, there was at least a feeling that something momentous was happening in the world of press.
Since then, the broadsheets have in turn been gurgling with excitement at the prospect of increased circulations and terrified of being left behind as they join the rush to shrink. What started as an innovative move, and continued with other quality dailies piggy-backing on The Independent ’s initiative, has now become something of a defensive manoeuvre.
Inaction from The Telegraph might be construed as long-term suicide.
One of the perceived advantages of going compact is that it attracts younger readers.
There’s no doubt that The Telegraph pulls in an aging readership. Currently the average Telegraph reader is 55, which is a full 10 years older than the average Independent reader. How will this be replenished? There is an argument that if The Telegraph doesn’t go compact it will be in danger of appearing outdated, something of a dinosaur in the national press marketplace.
Remaining in a broadsheet format might be one way of ensuring the nation’s best selling quality daily dwindles into a niche title for the rich and elderly.
It was a brave move for The Independent to go compact, but the result and effect is that it now it sells more papers.
I believe The Telegraph should itself consider a brave move – and stay as a broadsheet.
All the remaining quality dailies, with the exception of the FT, have gone or are going compact (or Berliner size), leaving The Telegraph an opportunity to fill a gap in the market by doing precisely nothing.
Yes, the format doesn’t unfold comfortably on the tube, but it’s not as though everybody in the
Between 8.30 and 9am, the Metro seems to have an almost complete monopoly on the tube and, aside from The Independent , there don’t appear to have been any rocket-like rises in the circulations of quality dailies since they changed format.
A good proportion of Telegraph readers are retired and prefer to spend their time not cooped up miserably on the underground, but sprawled in living room chairs contemplating their next big buy.
For them, a broadsheet may be more enjoyable than a compact paper which necessitates constant page flicking and generally lacks gravitas. The thinking goes that smaller papers appeal to a younger, perhaps slightly more female audiences. It would not be a surprise to find that older male readers prefer their newspapers in a larger format. In such an instance, it might be that The Telegraph starts taking valuable readers from The Times . Apart from giving The Telegraph a unique selling point, there are other, grimmer, reasons why it would do well to stay as it is.
Readers form relationships with their newspapers and many Telegraph readers are at an age which is highly resistant to change. Should The Telegraph go compact, this relationship could be disrupted and readers put off, making the conversion costs a total waste of money.
Advertisers are not enamoured with the compact format. Wrangles over rates have strained relationships between publishers and agencies. Many buyers believe impact is diminished by compact formats. When The Guardian changes format, The Telegraph will be the only mainstream daily quality paper where advertisers can achieve the level of impact possible with a broadsheet.
It will also be the only one where dwell time on each page is at broadsheet levels. Better still for The Telegraph, its readership is one which sits well with big formats.
Expensive products look good when given a decent amount of space and Telegraph readers are good people to advertise expensive goods to.
If things pan out for The Telegraph, older readers may migrate to it as they seek out a bigger paper to digest, possibly even a more relaxing read. If they do not, The Telegraph will have to act, be that in following the compact route or an intermediate size.
For the moment though, it might do best to sit where it is, stretch out its legs and enjoy the space that has opened up for it.
James Campbell is a planner/buyer at BJK&E Media