The Guardian prepares for a new dawn

Twenty-three months ago, there was a dark cloud hanging over
Farringdon Road. Guardian staff looked on glumly as The Independent’s
compact edition made off with their thunder. Other papers weren’t
supposed to make ground-breaking design decisions with far-reaching
implications for the industry. That was their job.

As the Indy
posted some increasingly impressive sales at their expense, there were
mutterings that editor Alan Rusbridger was paralysed by indecision,
fiddling with alternative formats while the circulation burned. The
Times’s swift decision to join the compact club, with accompanying
sales leaps, didn’t help that sense of inaction.

And even if he
already had his plan mapped out, by last June, when the Berliner move
was finally confirmed, the expected date for the new Guardian presses
in 2006 still seemed a very long way off.

But on Monday, months earlier than originally anticipated, the Berliner takes its bow.

It is, as you would expect, a thing of beauty.

For
Rusbridger and his team, it hasn’t come a moment too soon. The Indy’s
sales growth may have stopped, but it’s done so at 40,000 copies higher
than its final broadsheet days. The Times’s circulation surge shows a
growth of 60,000.

In cold terms, it means that the Berliner
edition needs to add 40,000 copies to The Guardian’s circulation
figures just to get back to where it was before its rivals went
compact. That’s a heck of a lot of pedalling, or peddling, to basically
stand still.

But don’t bet against it.

The marketing of the
paper, plus the spring in the step that this much-anticipated relaunch
will bring, will give The Guardian huge clout in the months ahead. The
Times’s price war ceasefire won’t hurt either.

The Guardian also
has another weapon up its sleeve. Actually, 11 million weapons – those
being the number of users claimed for The Guardian’s web sites. Even
taking the overseas users out of the equation, that’s an awful lot of
potential buyers who are already familiar with the brand.

It’s been said that the Berliner switch is the thing that will define Rusbridger’s editorship.

Not
true. It has already been defined by overseeing a commitment to online
journalism that no other mainstream newspaper in this country has
matched.

The Guardian Berliner will certainly make its mark on news consumption in the next few years.

The Guardian online will do so for even longer.

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