The Guardian plans £50m switch to slimline format

The Guardian is to stake its future on a £50m switch to a format as yet untested in the UK.

The paper confirmed this week that it is to change to a European Berlinerstyle format, in between current standard broadsheet and tabloid sizes.

The move is a response to the decision by The Times and The Independent to produce tabloid-size newspapers.

Guardian Media Group’s change will also affect The Observer and is not understood to be taking place until 2006. This will give the company time to replace printing equipment and possibly construct a new plant.

A dummy edition of the new-look Guardian is understood to be in circulation at the company’s Farringdon offices. One insider said: “It looks fantastic.”

The Guardian is currently printed in Manchester and at Westferry Printers in East London. The presses at Westferry are now nearly 20 years old and are shared by the Financial Times, Express Newspapers, Telegraph Group and The Guardian.

According to industry insiders, £50m is a conservative estimate of the cost to The Guardian of replacing its printing equipment.

The investment would be a longterm one over a period of around twenty years.

The Guardian has declined to comment on its planned format change – except to confirm that it is going to take place.

The Independent launched a tabloidsize version in September and fazed out its broadsheet a month ago. Over that period its circulation has increased from 218,567 to 261,009.

The Times, which started offering a tabloid-size version in November, has increased circulation since then from 622,102 to 652,264.

The Guardian’s circulation was 395,304 in September, it dipped to 369,726 in February, but it has since recovered to 389,400.

The expanded tabloid format, as used by French daily Le Monde and Italian paper La Repubblica, is seen as having the advantage of portability but without sacrificing a high-story count

By Dominic Ponsford

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