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Veni, midi, vici. Guardian is out to win

All eyes in the media next week will be turning toward The Guardian - and you haven't always been able to say that in recent years. All the paper's rivals have been watching like hawks and sharpening their talons in case its imminent Berliner format enjoys the benefit of the new and starts to claw back sales from The Times and The Independent.

Advertisers who are awake will want to be present in the first days, even the first weeks, of the first full-colour Le Monde-sized national in British newspaper history. First reports of the dummies of the new beast have been complimentary and the all-new Guardian, which will appear on 12 September, will receive a great deal of free attention across the media for its £80m investment.

The big unanswered question is whether its fall to sales of 358,345, the lowest since 1978, is the result of the appearance of tabloid rivals, the newspaper's adherence to Old Labour values or its generosity in offering its sophisticated online service to the world for free.

The reality is that a combination of all three is probably at work, and once the sampling effect is over it could prove difficult for the new midi-sized paper to fight its way back to what used to be rock-solid territory for The Guardian -- a circulation of 400,000.

The December ABC figures should start to give a serious indication as to whether size also matters in the midi market.

In an ideal media world, The Guardian should be rewarded for its virtue, investment and enterprise and start to punch its weight again in the market after an unfortunate blip. It would also be nice if at the top end of the market there could be not just diversity of opinion, but also of format - tabloid, midi and broadsheet.

In the real world, executives at The Daily Telegraph will be watching next week's events most carefully of all. Will the paper be able to continue with its by-now increasingly distinctive broadsheet format, or will broadsheets simply become so associated with the old, the passe and the retired colonels of Cheltenham that they are simply no longer viable?

If the broadsheet is no longer sustainable, the Berliner format could be a possible route out of the dilemma for the Telegraph. As Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger puts it, one of the challenges he faced was to find a format which combines 'the portability of a tabloid with the sensibility of a broadsheet'. If the Telegraph thinks its broadsheet days are numbered, then retaining the 'sensibility' of one might still be something to aspire to, while avoiding tabloid associations.

Should The Daily Telegraph succumb, then the position of the Financial Times becomes interesting. It is a unique publication with a tailor-made audience, but not every FT reader commutes in a chauffeur-driven Roller with plenty of elbow room, so convenience could be a factor here too.

The appearance this month of City AM, the free daily aimed at the City, may represent little more than the tiniest pink-prick for the FT, but it is a further sign that it no longer inhabits its own perfect world.

The response of The Times is the most interesting of all. Not for the first time, the Murdoch approach is to get its retaliation in early. A week before the new-look Guardian appears, out comes The Times with a new T2 section and new specialist daily sections - of the sort pioneered by The Guardian.

But here is the really courageous bit: up pops the price of The Times by 5p to 60p. The apparently routine rise represents a symbolic moment.

Twelve years since Rupert Murdoch cut the price of the paper in the hope of burying the Telegraph, the price war at the top end of the market is finally over.

The battle is now a fairer one between editorial quality and three distinct formats.

30 SECONDS ON ... NEWSPAPER FORMATS
- The broadsheet format was developed in 1712 when a tax was placed on British newspapers based on their number of pages. The Times of India is now the world's most widely circulated broadsheet, with more than 2m copies a day published from eight cities.

- In the UK, The Independent began the shift to smaller formats in 2003 when it started producing a 'compact' edition alongside its broadsheet. It went fully compact in May 2004. The Times followed suit in November 2004, despite vocal opposition from some of its readers.

- The term 'compact' was coined in the 70s by the Daily Mail to differentiate itself from 'downmarket' tabloids.

- The Berliner format being adopted by The Guardian is slightly bigger than tabloid. Guardian Newspapers has built new presses in Manchester and London to print it. The Observer will switch to the format early next year.

Date posted: September 7, 2005 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 65