When the Miami Herald introduced an eye-popping redesign with new features and sections in September, there was a provocative sidelight to the story. Consultant Mario Garcia (a longtime Poynter associate) had advocated remaking the Herald as a tabloid. The redesign committee went so far as mocking one up but pulled back to broadsheet with one new tabloid-style section and the sideways double-truck "Five-Minute Herald" news summary. Without criticizing his clients, Garcia predicted that the Herald, with its huge Latin-American audience, would switch to tabloid sooner or later.

Now from across the pond in Great Britain comes news that the era of the tabloid may be closer at hand than most suppose.

The links in the accompanying box tell the story in detail, but here's the summary. The Independent, newest of the four up-market and serious newspapers, began last fall offering single-copy buyers in selected markets a choice of a tabloid edition. The two were displayed side-by-side and had identical content. By a wide margin, readers chose the tabloid, and total circulation in the test markets rose 40 percent. The Independent now offers the choice nationwide, and there is speculation a total switchover will follow.

The Times of London followed suit in late December. Next week it will expand the tabloid option nationwide. Owner Rupert Murdoch commented that he was glad his competitor went first lest he be accused of desecrating the venerable broadsheet. The Daily Telegraph acknowledges having a tabloid prototype in hand and is expected next in.

The British newspaper market has a number of distinctive features. The major papers are national, available not just in London but all over the country. Reversing the American pattern, a substantial majority are sold single-copy rather than as home subscriptions. And the buyer has a choice among nine or 10 titles daily, five or six Sunday — with a spectrum of brands and styles from racy/trashy to relatively erudite. Particularly in London, but in other big cities, too, many readers are mass-transit riders — a more limited, big-city phenomenon in the U.S.

All that said, this is still a potent, large-scale, here-and-now demonstration bucking conventional wisdom. Turns out that many people, who more or less speak our language, find nothing inconsistent in combining serious newspaper content with a tabloid format. In fact, they like it — as forward-looking design thinkers like Garcia, and perhaps the editors of Newsday, have been saying for awhile.

[ Which U.S. papers would you like to see in tabloid form? ]