Switzerland's main tabloid newspaper Blick has been relaunched – and Page Three girls have been recalled – in a bid to boost a flagging readership.
Although still the most popular paid daily, Blick has faced tough competition from free newspapers. It has also been accused of losing its tabloid bite.
New editor-in-chief Bernhard Weissberg has decided to overhaul the Zurich-based newspaper's look and content, with the new version hitting breakfast tables on Wednesday morning.
The first edition of the new-look Blick was surprisingly short on sex: the first and only appearance of a naked woman was on page 41.
"The new Blick has four clearly structured sections: sex and eroticism are part of life and therefore are in the "life" section. The girl is natural, frank and Swiss," Marco Castellaneta, spokesman for Ringier, Blick's publisher, told swissinfo in a written statement.
He added that the whole of Blick was supposed to be sexy, as was fitting for a tabloid. However, he said that the last official Page Three girl in Blick was in May 2003.
The number of texts has been reduced and replaced by longer reportages, double-page picture stories and tougher interviews.
It has also grown in size. Blick averages 56 pages and now appears as a single-section paper, but with two front pages. According to the Ringier publishing group, Blick's "back" front page has turned it into the only sports paper in Switzerland.
Ringier said on Tuesday it would also launch a free evening edition, Blick am Abend, to kick off Euro 08, which Switzerland is co-hosting with Austria in June. The new publication would replace the evening free sheet heute, whose staff would produce the evening Blick.
The aim, according to Weissberg, is to be different from other news outlets by offering exclusive stories that have an emotional appeal. Nevertheless he promised: "Blick is and will remain a tabloid."
In addition, the newspaper will move politically back to the centre from its former left-leaning stance. Also making a return are that tabloid staple: women who have misplaced their clothes.
Blick's readership of 689,000 fell by 26,000 readers last year. It is still ahead of the more heavyweight newspapers such as the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, but it lies well behind the leading free newspaper 20 Minutes with its 1,212,000 readers.
Heinz Bonfadelli, a media professor at Zurich University, says free newspapers are especially popular among young people, whereas Blick's readers are mainly older.
Added to this is that celebrity and human-interest news – normal tabloid fare – is readily available to the free and serious newspapers, as well as on television.
"If you can find the same information in free papers, young people in particular will ask why they should pay for the same information," Bonfadelli told swissinfo.
There are now five free newspapers in German-speaking Switzerland, where Blick is mainly read. The French-speaking part of the country, which has smaller tabloid style papers, has two.
These freebies are available at most stations and tram stops, catching commuters to and from work. Blick is aiming to counter the morning demand by offering an early delivery service.
Blick's former political standpoint is also a reason why it has lost appeal, Bonfadelli said.
In the past Blick has been criticised for ignoring its audience – such as when it led a campaign against tougher asylum laws in Switzerland, when many readers would have actually approved the move.
"Research says that this type of tabloid paper has to have a political line similar to that of mainstream political attitudes, and these, especially today, are negative towards foreigners," noted Bonfadelli.
The Swiss tabloid is not alone in feeling the squeeze. The German tabloid Bild and British counterparts have also been facing falling readership.
However, Blick is not quite as aggressive in tone as these papers.
"Blick still has culture pages which you might not find in British tabloids. It has tried to be a tabloid but on a moderate level, especially as in recent years it did not have nude pictures of women. But now they will, so it is going a bit more in the direction of hard tabloid journalism," said Bonfadelli.
When Blick was launched in 1959 – seven years after Bild – it came under fire for its focus on sex, crime and sport. It was even boycotted by some advertisers for a while.
But it proved popular among the public, with its circulation quadrupling to 200,000 in just ten years. In 1969 SonntagsBlick was launched, which is the most-read Sunday newspaper in Switzerland.
However, Bonfadelli is not so sure about the future. Reconciling the loyal core readership with younger readers' needs will be hard, he says – and there is a lack of daily controversies in Switzerland to fill its pages.
"Even with this redesign Blick will have a hard time in Switzerland and the readership will decline further," he said.
swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson
91.6% of Swiss read newspapers, according to a recent survey by media consultants Wemf.
Top 3 readership
20 Minutes (free, German version): 1,212,000
Neue Zürcher Zeitung: 312,000
Le Matin Bleu (free): 353,000
20 Minutes (free, French) : 276,000
24 Heures (daily) : 240,000
Source : Swiss Press Association
Germany's most popular tabloid Bild has a circulation of four million. Tabloids also exist in France, Austria and Italy.
In Britain the first tabloid, The Mirror, dates from 1903. The Sun, from 1964, now has the highest circulation, 3.1 million.
The United States' first tabloid dates from 1919, the New York Daily News. The highly popular New York Post comes from the post-war years.