Newspapers are in an inexorable slide toward smaller formats because consumers prefer compact and companies are conserving money in print. This has been the rallying cry for broadsheet-to-compact format change since the London quality dailies sparked a global revolution in 2003.
Switzerland’s Blick was one of those format change newspapers five years ago.
There are four general sizes of newspaper worldwide: broadsheet, Berliner, tabloid, and micro. Several years ago, I tried to track the history of micro newspapers in Austria and Switzerland – no avail. They have been around in some format since the early 20th century, which looks odd to the outsider but which is normal to residents of these two countries.
In 2004, the Ringier-owned Blick changed from Berliner (what the Swiss would consider “broadsheet”) to micro (what the Swiss would consider “tabloid”). It was a differentiating move since there was only one other micro-format daily in the German part of Switzerland, the free 20 Minuten.
Fast-forward five years.
There are now four free dailies in micro format circulating in the German part of Switzerland and two more in the French part of Switzerland.
Like it or not, “micro” has become the equivalent of “free” in Switzerland.
And Blick is a paid-for national newspaper.
Time to differentiate. Time to go the opposite direction.
While the decision has not formally been made, there have been trade press reports that Blick will go against the compact trend and convert from micro to Berliner so that it can differentiate in a market where the format has a connotation it doesn’t want.
I asked INMA member Bernhard Weissberg, editor-in-chief of the 275,000-circulation Blick, about the potential move. What he told me today shows the kind of bare-knuckles fight it’s like in a competitive market. You publish, you learn, you adapt, you move on.
Besides differentiation, Weissberg said the bigger Berliner format for Blick fits into its broader strategy. Said Weissberg: “For a long period, Blick was asked strategically to cover too much ground: the suburb read, sports-oriented core reader. But also more women, younger urbanites, and so on. Forget it: The public transport system in the big city is ‘free paper-land.’ So we launched three years ago ‘heute,’ an evening newspaper. We changed it one year ago to ‘Blick am Abend,’ a free paper, younger, but with the Blick brand. It covers the urban readership. So, Blick can go back to its roots and just do what it is meant for.”
And it can do so in a Berliner format that will allow its journalism to be displayed on the “right stage” relative to its audience, he added.
Another important factor is that Blick has successfully developed its home delivery business. In the past decade, Blick has evolved from 50% home delivery to nearly 70% home delivery. Smaller formats are best for single-copy commuter newspapers.
Finally, the hyper-competition in Switzerland among dailies means less and less money for everyone. Blick intends to compete with “more concentration on extraordinary stories” rather than physically bigger newspapers. Weissberg believes a thinner big newspaper is better than a thinner small newspaper.
There may be an inexorable slide to compact formats in print, but the law of differentiation oftens trumps all.