An inescapable part of the weekend papers – just ask any paperboy – supplements come in many shapes and sizes, are of varying quality and cater for a range of interests. Alan Geere casts his eye over the current crop.

By Alan Geere

Supplement n. suhp-luh-muhnt; 1 a part, usually of special character, issued as an additional feature of a newspaper or other periodical. 2 unashamed collection of old tosh cobbled together to make money for publisher.

Only the fit and active will dare take on the Sunday Times challenge. Weighing in at 1.40kg (3lbs in old money), it is the granddaddy of the sectionalised newspaper. The current offspring are three magazines and nine newspaper supplements running from broadsheet to compact and sport to appointments.

It is all beautifully put together and has what they modestly call ‘the best writing’ but, like a Tiger Woods address book, the problem is you just don’t know where to start.

Are these sections and supplements any good? Is there not just too much of a good thing?

Magazine supplements were pioneered by the New York Times and were introduced to Britain by the Sunday Times in 1962. Under the editorship of Harold Evans, the magazine went for it big time using lavish photography and expensive investigative journalism.

Now, no self-respecting grown up paper, and a few at the other end of the market, would be seen without at least one magazine.

There’s been much lamentation at the news that the Observer is to close three of its monthly magazines, Observer Sport Monthly, Observer Music Monthly and Observer Woman. All are stylishly put together and would not look out of place as stand-alone products on the newsstand. But they just don’t pay their way and although they are currently still appearing, albeit in reduced pagination, they are due to be shipped off to the magazine rack in the sky later this year.

And why not go the other way and have no sections and supplements at all? The Independent on Sunday is a compact read that trips neatly along through news, comment, and arts with a sport pull-out. In these time-starved, information-skimming days, it might just be a winning formula – with readers if not with advertisers and managements.

Here’s the InPublishing guide to sections and supplements:

1. A Leaning for Listings

The expanded TV offering has presented newspapers with a problem. Now there’s too much choice, so all the cable and satellite channels need some sort of listing, taking up a lot of room.

* The Sun TV mag and Daily Mirror’s We love telly

As good as any newsstand TV magazine. Soaps, reality shows, primetime dramas to the fore but also room for previews of nature, documentaries and films. Compact, easy to read listings but sadly no radio.

* The Times Playlist – Your essential cultural week.

TV Guide with knobs on. Touts exhibitions (one page) and games (two pages) on the front but is mostly previews, reviews and lob-up interviews “Dermot O’Leary proves nice guys can finish first”.

* The Times Saturday review – arts, books and ideas

Plenty of the first two, but not sure where the idealist bit fits in. There is something called ‘essay’ (long, dull think piece) and another called ‘the conversation’ (long, dull interview) but not much of a lightbulb moment between them.

* The Telegraph Review - artbooksfilmmusicstagetv&radio

Boosted to 60 pages by the addition of TV listings, now their own separate mag has been dropped. Not sure it works as a coffee table companion next to the TV remote as it’s just too unwieldy, but there is plenty to raise a highbrow eyebrow at.

2. Something for the Weekend?

With Saturday the new Sunday and Sunday, the old Sunday there are sections galore covering so-called weekend activities like cooking, walking in the country and ‘parenting’, given that the kids have to fend for themselves all week long.

* The Times Weekend

Repository for all those things you feel you ought to have in a weekend paper. “The perfect swing seat”, “the curious charm of jackdaws” and “is it really ok to holiday in Burma?” How did we ever survive Saturdays before? But it’s good writing and if you’ve a few hours to kill between the farmers’ market and the gastro-pub, a thoroughly entertaining read.

* Daily Telegraph Weekend

Used to be the go-to supplement, but now looking a bit tired around the edges, with its endless private school and posh restaurant bias. Lively outdoorsy outlook, with the incomparable Robin Page as country columnist. Just a shame that the feisty Jan Moir has been replaced by the flaccid Jasper Gerrard as restaurant critic.

* The Guardian Family

Small, but perfectly formed like a proper family with everyone knowing where they stand. Young, old, married, single. Something for everyone. Ahhh

3. Show me the money

Some supplements and sections are there to soak up the advertising spend. Traditionally property, motoring and travel have been high earners, but times are now tougher and editors have to work harder to fill the space between the ads.

* Telegraph motoring

Trying to do for newspapers what Top Gear has done for TV by appealing to a broader church than the petrol-head congregation. It even has James May with an ‘As seen on TV’ column. Neat though it is, it can’t match Honest John and his expert help.

* Sunday Times Money

Pictures of beautiful people. Some of them with more money than sense - “We lost our dream home” - and others with the sense to make more money - “Climate change is a hot investment”. All a bit blurry between editorial / advertising / PR back-scratching but lots of useful information for the number hungry.

* Daily Telegraph ultratravel

Large format glossy featuring the best the world has to offer in holidaying and travel. Unashamedly upmarket (or aspirational for those of us on pocket money rations) – sailing in the Turks and Caicos, cashmere travel kits and New Zealand’s islands – but sumptuously produced and well worth ripping out of the polybag.

* Sunday Times home

Lovely homes, lovely people. Even with the credit crunch biting into the property market, there are still enough ads to make a credible homes section. Still a bit too fond of the £1m plus end of the market but we like to look even if we can’t touch.

4. Magazines

Back to where it all started. Lavish and glossy like the best magazines, and full of sharp incisiveness like the best newspapers.

* The Times Magazine

Quality journalism all the way from Slummy Mummy through to Beta Male. Marquee names on both sides of the writer / subject divide from the Queen to Mathew Parris and Simon Cowell to Joan Bakewell (I’m sure there’s a TV game show in there somewhere).

* The Observer Magazine

Fun regulars, especially ‘My body and soul’ which delights every week despite continually losing its bottle on the ‘Is sex important to you?’ question. Interviews, in-depth investigations and the voyeuristic shallowness of Mariella Frostrup’s Relationships page.

* The Sunday Times Style

Another contender for the newsstand. Clothes, make-up, feelings, problems all wrapped up with glorious advertising. How could you not feel stylish?

* The Sunday Times magazine

Still right up there with the best. Investigations, interviews and timeless regulars like ‘A Life in the Day’ and ‘Relative Values’. The doyen of feature writers, Lynn Barber, still strutting her stuff and taking on Lady Gaga in one December issue. All we need is Harry Hill shouting “Fight!”.

* News of the World, Fabulous.

A diddy-sized romp through true life tales – “My party lifestyle almost killed me” – fashion, beauty and the ubiquitous ‘lifestyle’ (cooking and puzzles). Fun, frivolous and just a bit Fabulous.

* Mail on Sunday, You

A genuine mid-market rival to the quality magazines. Big, bouncy and full of that Mail panache that stands it apart from the crowd.

* Sunday Express, S Magazine

A meaty read (80+ pages) including TV listings. Celebrity features, fashion, parenting, agony and still the best general knowledge crossword in the Western world. Love the short story and the ads for impossibly cheap clothes and things you hope you’ll never need like an “amazing adjustable bed” or a walk-in bath.

5. Daily regulars

Features that have migrated from the back of the book to having their own grown-up section. Often better than the main paper, thanks to the breadth and depth they are allowed.

* The Guardian, g2

Quirky mix of the bizarre and the businesslike that builds up a following via regulars like ‘Pass Notes’, columnists, arts, puzzles and a healthy splash of TV. Typical Guardian-like hectoring and lecturing, but, hey, some people like being told what to think.

* Independent Life

Feels a bit thin at 20 pages, but hats off to the Indy for keeping it going. Meaty features make up for the slim pagination with arts and TV propping up the back with puzzles.

* The Times 2

Lots to read (aka there aren’t many ads) at the front end with newsy features and a generous arts coverage at the back. Decent range of reviews – Benjamin Britten to Public Image Ltd via Sandi Toksvig in one pre-Christmas issue – and comprehensive TV and radio.

6. We can’t live without...

Specials and regulars that tick all the right boxes.

* Sunday Times appointments

Full of impossibly well-paid jobs you think you could do – Global Sponsorship Executive for Manchester United (attractive package) – and others that seems to come from another world – SAP Solutions Director (to £150k package). Just not sure I’ve got “the mindset of a business transformation consultant but the heart of a SAP technologist”. Essential reading for the have-nots and want-mores.

* Telegraph Voyages of Distinction

One of the most elegantly crafted reader offers you are likely to see. Big pictures of big ships attached to big prices.

* Society Guardian

Now a shadow of its previously 100-page plus incarnation. But, although most of the ads have migrated online, it’s not frightened to tackle some of the bigger social issues and still finds a corner for the incomparable strip cartoon turned radio show, Clare in the Community.