Times move to compact format boosts circulation

Saturday’s final broadsheet (left) andMonday’s first all-compact Times

The Times put on around 10 per cent year-on-year in full price sales in its first appearance as a tabloid on Monday and was around 3 per cent up week-on-week.

Able to announce the first unconfirmed returns for the largest change in the paper’s 216-year history, editor Robert Thomson is convinced that he will carry readers with him because they are “passionate” about The Times’s content and not its format.

Thomson was passionate himself when he spoke to Press Gazette on Wednesday. “The Monday figures are frankly wonderful,” he enthused.

He estimated reader complaints over the change were running at 12-13 per cent of the expected (but unspecified) level. Some of this might be due to the paper’s pre-tabloid strategy.

“We began calling subscribers on Saturday, particularly those who had indicated a preference for the broadsheet, to inform them about the imminent change and to talk them through it,” he said.

Thomson does not believe any of the trust readers have with their newspaper has been lost by removing the broadsheet when they had been promised it would continue alongside the tabloid.

He added: “When we made that promise, the situation was different” Thomson continued: “At the time we meant what we said. There was no economic reason, as people have suggested, why we couldn’t do both. The extra expenses are minimal in comparison to the revenue and overall cost of The Times .

“What had changed dramatically was the reaction in areas where we tested. We are in a dynamic market and we realised there was overwhelming demand for the compact and a great deal of acceptance among people who had previously expressed a preference for broadsheet.”

Tests of the tabloid-only paper in Northern Ireland, Scotland and the West Country saw sales rise “significantly”.

In September The Times ‘s ABC was up 4.5 per cent year-on-year, the seventh consecutive month of year-on-year increases.

Thomson believes the relationship between the newspaper and its readers has not been damaged by the sudden switch. “People are passionate about The Times and that passion is not one dimensional in that it is only to do with format. It’s far more to do with the qualitative character of The Times .”

The suggestion that there would be job cuts as a result of the re-formatting was “rubbish”, he said. “Frankly the subs did an extraordinary job in coping with that workload (doing both formats in an evening) and adapting to the new canvas. What is truly a relief to the editing team is that we can now concentrate on one format.”

Staff, he added, were delighted about the increase in sales. “The defining characteristic of aTimes journalist is that they believe in serious reporting in Britain and they want to give that to as many people as possible.”

The crunch day for the paper will come on Saturdays, when the broadsheet and its supplements go tabloid for the first time.

Yet he still expects an increase in the sale: “We’ve been struggling a bit on Saturdays but given our much stronger weekday base, Saturday is not going to come as a shock to readers.

Where there is a burden of responsibility on us is to ensure the package is manageable”

By Jean Morgan

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