Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Downsizing of newspaper specs picks up steam, trend could make sense in magazines, as tab editions are built

Three U.K. newspapers owned by the Edinburgh regional newspaper publisher Johnston Press are about to forego their broadsheet format for new tabloid sized versions. The Berwick Advertiser*, The Berwickshire News and The Southern Reporter will become tabloids starting on March 21.

"There is a refreshed, modern design to go with the new compact format," the publisher announced this weekend. "But your favourite local newspaper will still contain all the things which make it essential reading. Most importantly, we will continue to provide the very best coverage of news, sport, entertainment and community events relevant to the area where you live."

Why the publisher would choose to do this was left to the imagination, as the news story on the move was mostly about why buying The Berwickshire was such a good deal.

UK papers aren't the only ones downsizing. The Cincinnati Enquirer, a Gannett paper, will be debuting its own smaller sized paper starting March 11.

"This change is historic. It has been years in the making, and our readers and advertisers have been along every step of the way," said Margaret Buchanan, publisher of The Enquirer. "This new format requires a complete transformation in printing technology. We all know new technology sometimes brings unexpected challenges. We’ll have teams ready to respond if we encounter issues, because meeting your needs is at the core of what we do."

Reading the column by Buchanan one can only find two reasons why moving to a compact size would be a good deal for readers - and they are both related: the smaller format is "more efficient to produce," and it fulfills reader requests that the paper "continue to publish a print newspaper."
 photo CincinnatiEnquirer-prototype-sm_zps2a167e3a.jpg
Moving from broadsheet to tabloid has usually been seen as a cost saving measure, though not always. While I was at Hearst in Los Angeles, management explored producing a tabloid version of the Herald Examiner. The paper, one east coast executive is rumored to have believed, would be easier to read on the subway. The fact that Los Angeles did not have a subway may be ultimately led the company to abandon the project (the paper was closed a few years later).

But there may be another good reason to consider a small publication: it is easier to convert to a tablet edition. Tabloids look more like themselves on a tablet – think of The Daily, it resembled many of Murdoch's tabloid papers, even in a natively designed tablet edition.

So if there are advantages for newspaper publishers, aren't there the same advantages for magazine publishers? I think this would most certainly be true of European magazines that use a larger format than most U.S. publishers. In fact, some publishers have reduced their sizes down to A4 recently to save production costs, but a further reduction in size, to something closer to the tablet's specs, could be in the offing in the future.

For publishers who have chosen to launch replica editions, this would have obvious advantages, as far too many replicas have fonts reduced down in size to an unreadable level. But, to be honest, I don't believe the replica edition is here to stay – after all, once a print edition is eliminated there is nothing to be a replica of.

* Note: if you are an American there would be a temptation to pronounce the "W" in the name of this newspaper and its town, Berwick-upon-Tweed, located barely south of the Scottish line. But, as I was told many years ago, in no uncertain terms, the word is pronounced Bear-ick)