Size matters... if you are a Brit

Media strategy: The Guardian has committed itself to the Berliner format – ironically not used by German qualities

The Guardian, to add to the recent turmoil in the quality newspaper market, has announced plans to go Berliner – a format smaller than a broadsheet but a bit taller and a bit wider than the more British tabloid.

The continental Europe format, which is favoured by Le Monde – the quality Parisian daily – provides a solution for The Guardian to convert to a more practical read while still differentiating themselves from their compact competitors, The Independent and The Times.

The re-vamped Guardian won’t actually be launched until 2006, so why bother to talk about it now? The Independent launched its “compact” version within days of announcing it to the press, and expanded to full circulation within six months.

The Times quickly followed suit, launching its tabloid version within eight days of The Independent’s launch.

The latest announcement ensures that The Guardian isn’t seen as the last of the broadsheets to revolutionise the way their paper looks.

And they really are making it difficult for themselves.

They could switch to tabloid almost overnight using the G2 presses.

So why has The Guardian decided it would be a good idea to spend £50m on overhauling their whole print process? The Berliner format does suggest they have made a more considered compact choice.

They’ve had the chance to assess the pros and cons of downsizing and concluded that they should change to a format half way in between.

Perhaps they considered going tabloid but realised that, with the daily volume of their sections, the thickness of the newspaper might be a bit overwhelming.

In the UK, the size and colour of a newspaper has until recently, dictated its content.

However, on continental Europe, size isn’t such a important issue.

Le Monde has always been Berliner format, and forms a useful case study for The Guardian as it’s obviously a tried and tested formula that works for an upmarket newspaper.

Les Echos (French FT) changed from tabloid to Berliner last September. However, apparently this wasn’t because there’s a Berliner compact war starting in France but because they had to use Le Monde’s print works.

Other titles printed in Berliner format include La Vanguardia in Spain and La Repubblica in Italy – both quality dailies.

There are also quality dailies such as La Tribune in France and Expansion in Spain that are tabloid in format.

Ironically, one continental country where the national quality newspapers are all broadsheet is Germany.

There are factors which contribute to the apparently random choice of format in continental Europe.

In France and Italy (amongst others), they have weekly news magazines so there’s less pressure on the newspapers to fit everything into a tabloid for a portable read.

There are also very strong regional newspaper markets across continental Europe as a result of the regionals having very high quality content.

This means that the growth of commuter titles such as Metro is not having as noticeable an effect on the quality national press markets as Metro has had over here.

In the UK, it seems that because Metro doesn’t make a statement about its reader, as, for example, the Daily Sport might, it’s been a success with the upmarket urbanites who might like to read The Guardian but can’t cope with the folding or antisocial size on public transport.

What matters from an advertising perspective is that Berliners such as Le Monde and (at some point) The Guardian, and tabloids such as The Independent and La Tribune, print in this format not as a gimmick, but in order to meet their readers’ needs.

The days of spreading a huge newspaper across the breakfast table before making one’s way to the office are giving way to the time-poor commuter who uses his or her journey to work to catch up on news and business matters.

A quality tabloid is perfect for this. A quality Berliner is just as transportable while still retaining some of the editorial feel of a broadsheet.

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