Media Lifeline: The Observer

A period of political upheaval has seen the Sunday title suffer a loss of editor, but increase sales.

January 2006: The Observer not only relaunches in Berliner format (The Guardian had already done so back in September), but it also introduces Observer Woman, an addition to its stable of monthly titles - Observer Sport Monthly, Observer Food Monthly and Observer Music Monthly - published in rotation across each month. The initiatives are backed by a significant marketing push.

February 2006: All of which appears to bear immediate fruit. ABC figures published in February show the paper's January sale leaping by 100,000 year on year to almost 550,000. This now puts it within touching distance of the paper just ahead in the pecking order - The Sunday Telegraph, which records a January ABC of more than 682,000. Rivals say they are unperturbed, however, arguing that The Observer's momentum is unsustainable.

February 2007: Indeed, January's ABC figure is only 444,186. Yet media agencies argue the redesign has made the title more attractive to advertisers. Meanwhile, internal debate continues about whether the editor Roger Alton's pro-Iraq war stance may have hit sales.

October 2007: The title's underlying problems are exposed to public scrutiny when Alton, its editor since 1998, resigns when he apparently loses the battle to keep the paper totally independent from The Guardian. The titles are costly to produce - and pooling their resources in certain areas will save money. But internal wrangling highlights other fault lines, with Guardian staff continuing to insist that The Observer has become too right wing.

March 2008: The paper closes ranks around its new editor, John Mulholland, who had been Alton's deputy for most of his tenure. And the new regime seems blessed with good fortune when it is revealed as the only Sunday newspaper to record a circulation increase in the ABCs for February - up almost 5 per cent year on year to 464,005. Rivals point out, however, that the gain coincided with a plethora of giveaways and a heavy TV campaign.

Fast forward ...

October 2008: With sales wilting once more and after a series of rows with Alan Rusbridger, the editor-in-chief, Mulholland decamps to edit The Mail on Sunday. Rumours filter out that The Observer is to be relaunched as the Sunday Guardian (& Observer).