Media Headliner: The man delivering 'something new on Sundays'

Tristan Davies, the Independent on Sunday editor, explains the reasons behind the newspaper's revamp.

It must be more than a little frustrating being Tristan Davies. After all, he's the editor of the Independent on Sunday, the second favourite in a family of two, which just happens to sell fewer papers than many of its rival families. If this were a game of ugly sisters, he'd be in darkest Cinderella-syndrome country.

Yet there's a sneaking suspicion that, arguably, the IoS is actually more successful than its daily stablemate - the IoS publishes on 14 per cent of the days of the week, yet brings in (give or take) 25 per cent of group advertising revenues. In some circles, that would be called punching above your weight. But the daily seems to benefit from most of the investment funds kicking around, and Davies' best mate, Simon Kelner, the editor of The Independent (and the editor- in-chief of the whole group), gets just about all of the kudos.

So it's no surprise to find Davies keen to make the most of his limited turns in the spotlight. His last run-out was almost two years ago, when the IoS followed the revolutionary path beaten by Kelner on the daily and downsized the Sunday from broadsheet to compact.

This time around, he's claiming equally revolutionary credentials, as his paper does away with the concept - the orthodox approach for more than two decades now - of the Sunday newspaper as a community of sub-brand supplements. As of last Sunday, they were all subsumed into one big newspaper and one big colour supplement.

Davies argues there's a feeling these days that readers are struggling with the baggy monsters that Sunday papers have become, not just at the quality end, but in the mid-market, too. With Sunday becoming a day like any other in the week, people are just too busy.

"Our research indicated that there's an appetite out there for something new on a Sunday," he explains. The time is right, he argues, to make more of a sometimes neglected strength of the Sunday newspaper - the opportunity to take a step back and summarise the week's events.

Many editors in the business, for instance, have noted with interest the rise of The Week. The UK edition, "all you need to know about everything that matters", published by Dennis Publishing, offers a distillation of the best of the British and foreign press in just 44 pages.

Its mantra as "the antidote to media clutter and information overload" has convinced many - not least in the media industry itself. So, the IoS will seek to do more of that - adopting some of the production values of a magazine in the process - without chucking out the traditional virtues of a newspaper.

Davies hopes that the new philosophy will find favour with existing readers, the readers of other titles and, ambitiously, that most elusive of target markets - those who've somehow lost the Sunday newspaper habit (or a newspaper habit full stop) in recent years.

It's a tall order. Although the IoS headline Audit Bureau of Circulations figure is 244,809, its full-rate circulation is under 170,000. That's a long way shy of its high watermark of more than 400,000 towards the tail end of 1992.

Radical product innovation can usually be counted on to deliver a short-term circulation boost for newspapers - going compact in October 2005 boosted the IoS by around 30,000 in early 2006, for instance. But the bounce is usually relatively short-lived - in the case of the IoS, the gains of early 2006 had been almost entirely dissipated by the end of the year.

He won't discuss circulation targets, but Davies seems an irrepressible optimist. Which, you could argue, he would have to be. And he's a thoroughly modern editor, in that he's a technocrat who has worked his way up from the grassroots.

Now 45, he trained as a radio journalist before working on the free newspaper Covent Garden - and when its editor was hired to launch The Independent's listings pages, he followed. As he worked his way up the career ladder - listings editor, arts editor, features editor - he became mates with Kelner, and even followed him when he was lured to edit The Mail on Sunday's supplement Night and Day. They both, of course, soon returned "home".

His background, he says, gives him a perspective on how real people read newspapers. But does it sometimes get him down that he has to make do on meagre budgets. Does he feel neglected? Not a bit of it, he responds: "In our proprietor (Tony O'Reilly, the chief executive of Independent News and Media), we have someone who believes passionately in his titles, and I have always felt I have complete support. I have been given all the tools I need to do the job."

Will advertisers approve of the revamp? Mark Gallagher, the executive director of press at Manning Gottlieb OMD, believes that they will. "It's brave, but then the Independent group tends to be brave - and I think they've thought carefully about purchasing patterns at the weekend. I think the new IoS will really jump out at people at the point of sale - and on a Sunday, that's often the supermarket these days," he says.

And Davies reveals that he (again, rather a rarity in national newspaper editors) is not unaware of the concerns of the ad market. He concludes: "My brief is to edit the newspaper, but I'd be a complete idiot to pretend that advertising isn't important. The ideal situation is one where you can recognise that without it impinging on your editorial integrity.

"I think it's rare to approach the design of a paper generally with advertising in mind - as we have done. We recognise, for instance, that advertisers in the main paper tend to want to be in the front half of the book. We have acknowledged that there should be better ways of working with that."