MEDIA ANALYSIS: Less is more for new-look Sindy

The Independent on Sunday has ditched the ‘big fat weekend paper' trend in favour of a slim and trim new format. Robert Gray looks at the implications.

Readers of a certain age will recall the launch of The Independent 21 years ago, supported by the classic slogan: ‘It is, are you?’ Entering an already crowded and hard-fought broadsheet market, an imperative from day one was to carve out a distinct identity, which the paper initially achieved by combining a fresh approach to design with a passion to distance itself from competitors owned by meddling proprietors.

In 2003, the Indy innovated once more with the introduction of a ‘compact’ paper, which boosted circulation and eventually influenced rivals The Times and The Guardian to forsake the broadsheet format that had once appeared a sacrosanct differentiator from the mid-market.

Now weekend sibling The Independent on Sunday, or Sindy as some prefer, is swimming against the tide. In an era when weekend papers are as beefed up with supplements as Sylves­ter Stallone, Sindy has slimmed down. It has ditched the multi-section approach, with Art Books & Culture and Business & Money incorporated into The New Review magazine and main paper.

‘Everything you need’

Gone is the standard text-heavy newspaper front page, replaced by a look more like that of a weekly title such as Time.

The first refreshed issue was dominated by a central cover ­image of Conservative leader David Cameron and his wife Samantha above the headline ‘Greener Than Thou?’ – teasing readers to look inside for a tour of the couple’s Notting Hill eco home.

A new ten-page section called News Week provides a round-up of the week’s news stories. Part of the strategy is to reach out to consumers who are not regular newspaper buyers by giving them something concise and different. This is reinforced with a masthead strap­line that reads: ‘Everything you need on a Sunday. Nothing you don’t’.

The Sindy has long struggled financially, and has shed some staff ahead of the relaunch. It is perennially placed fourth in the quality Sunday market and has found it difficult to lure readers from rivals. Owner Tony O’Reilly will be hoping the overhaul delivers results.

Kinross + Render CEO Sara Render says: ‘I actually quite like the look of the paper, but I can’t help feeling the revamp is more about disguising the facts of less content and fewer journalists than it is about generating greater value for readers.’

Render feels travel and tourism content seems to be hardest hit in the shake-up. The inclusion of more shorter stories, or ‘super nibs’, may cause problems with getting balanced stories from a PR perspective, she feels.

On a more positive note for PROs, the slightly understaffed Sindy is likely to rely more on the wire services.

Sindy editor Tristan Davies says sales of the first new-look issue were up ‘substantially’, helping to compensate for 14.5% fewer copies being sold in May than in April. ‘The relationship between PR and the newspaper isn’t fundamentally changed,’ he says.

The punchy super nibs are clearly designed to reach out to the internet generation – perhaps those who get their news online during the week but crave the indulgence of something a ­little more substantial at the weekend.

Each story also suggests further reading, with words or phrases underlined as per hyper­links – a practice which ­attracted a fair bit of scorn in the blogosphere. Davies concedes the design device was over-used in the first issue and says it will be ­deployed more sparingly in future.

‘Two bites at the cherry’
Taylor Herring group account director Peter Mountstevens believes the change from a multi-section format to one newspaper and one magazine has its advantages from a PR perspective. ‘The most obvious is that coverage has the potential to reach a larger audience, whereas previously many consumers simply read their favourite sections and left the remainder unread.

‘I like the News Week section which, taking its lead from The Week style of doing things, provides easy-to-access, easy-on-the-eye and consumable news. This way a PRO gets two bites at the cherry, with this section following the pick-up we get during the week.’

Eulogy! managing director Adrian Brady says the revamp may pose some strategic challenges for PROs, given the magazine-style front pages.

As ­Davies is so candidly targeting a new type of reader, Brady thinks determining exactly who the Sindy’s audience is may be an issue for a while.

Barcelona-based design firm Cases oversaw the redesign and a new in-house graphics team has been recruited. Shine Communications founder Rachel Bell feels the visual improvements make for an easier read – and that the web-like underscores and directions for further reading create an ­impression of added value.

‘Papers can’t compete with the sheer volume of information the internet holds, but if they can act as filters, and reference readers if they need more, they will continue to have a strong presence,’ she says.

This may be a fair encapsulation of the Sindy’s new philosophy. Keep the newspaper content crisp – and if readers want more information, they can track it down on their web browsers.

John Mullin - Deputy ed & News Week, t 020 7005 2651, e
Andrew Murray-Watson - Business editor, t 020 7005 2050 e
Bill Tuckey - New Review editor, t 020 7005 2566 e
James Hanning - Comment editor, t 020 7005 2480 e
Raymond Whitaker - Foreign editor, t 020 7005 2779 e

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