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/CORRECTED REPEAT*/SPECIAL REPORT: Quality Could Survive Shrinking Broadsheets

Miren Gutierrez

ROME, Mar 20 2005 (IPS) - "The broadsheet is dead", Jim Chisholm, strategy advisor to the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers (WAN) declared in a report ‘New Designs, New Formats’ published last June.

Or at least, it could be dying. There is a growing trend to publish newspapers of tabloid size (compact editions as they are called, to separate them from ‘tabloids’) to overturn a two to four percent decline in the circulation of broadsheets in most developed markets over more than a decade. Some say this means less and less content too.

"Today we believe that over 50 major titles have (changed) or are making the change," Chisholm said in an e-mail interview.

In Britain, The Times came out as also a compact edition last November after 216 years as broadsheet. Its owner, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. decided to publish it in both formats after The Independent brought out a tabloid-size edition in September 2003. The Independent went fully compact last year.

The moves by The Independent and The Times put enormous pressure on The Guardian, which has been losing circulation. It said it would not go compact in order to maintain "the integrity of The Guardian’s journalism.." But it will go to a size halfway between a broadsheet and a tabloid.

Sweden underwent perhaps the biggest revolution in the move from broadsheet to tabloid size. Thirteen dailies turned tabloids: Skånska Dagbladet, Dagens Nyheter, Göteborgs-Posten, Sydsvenskan, Östersunds-Posten, Vestmanlands Läns Tidning, Sundsvalls Tidning, Upsala Nya Tidning, Östgöta Correspondenten, Borås Tidning, Nerikes Allehanda, Västerbottens-Kuriren and Norrköpings Tidningar.


The Belgian newspaper De Standaard changed its format March 8 last year.

In Germany publishers of the business daily Handeslblatt announced in September last year that they would launch a compact publication, The News, in Frankfurt. The publication aims to offer readers in the 20-39 age group a news summary in about 15 minutes reading time, Handeslblatt chairman Harald Muesse was quoted as saying by editorsweblog.org.

Only 25 journalists will work on the new paper, which will be able to use articles from Handeslblatt and its partner in Berlin, the daily Tagesspiegel.

In May last year German publisher Axel Springer launched Welt Kompakt, a tabloid edition of the broadsheet Die Welt, one of Germany’s best-known quality newspaper titles. He is planning a similar version of the mass-market Bild daily, Germany’s most widely read newspaper.

The list goes on.

Many newspapers believe that "all things being equal, readers prefer smaller page sizes to bigger ones," says the WAN report. WAN groups 72 national newspaper associations, individual newspaper executives in 100 nations, 13 news agencies, and nine regional press organisations. In all, it represents more than 18,000 publications.

But has this strategy been successful for sales?

"The newspaper world has been mightily impressed with the recent results of The Independent in London," said Chisholm in the WAN report. Circulation of the daily rose 18 percent within six months of the format changeover.

Circulation has often been seen to rise six to eight percent in the year following the transformation. But Chisholm said going compact is no panacea. "The facts are that the vast majority of newspapers show a small short-term increase in sales, then the trend that existed before continues," he told IPS.

Changing a newspaper format is a great gamble: readers could resist the change. Subscriptions may also fall as loyal readers switch to another broadsheet. And most newspapers see an initial fall in advertising revenue.

According to a report last November in the British publication Media Week, the move by The Scotsman to a compact edition "failed to prevent circulation from falling." But it did slow the rate of decline, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) figures.

"Few newspapers have seen significant improvements in sales from their changes, and those that have, have been excellent newspapers in other ways," argues the WAN report.

U.S. papers are not following this trend. The Chicago Tribune and some other papers have introduced tabloid-size papers aimed at young people. But "as wave upon wave of smaller formats pop up in Europe…the scene in the United States is oddly tranquil," says an article published in a July-August 2004 issue by Newspaper Techniques, the monthly magazine of Ifra, a Europe-based association for newspaper and media publishing.

The magazine quotes experts as saying that national ads in the United States are sold for the broadsheet format.

Outside the U.S., much more consideration is given to the reader than the advertiser, Alan Jacobson, president and chief executive officer of Brass Tacks Design, a newspaper design company based in Norfolk in the United States was quoted by the magazine as saying. In the U.S., a greater proportion of production costs is paid for by advertising.

Several factors make ‘going tabloid’ easier in Europe: Europeans tend to have stronger loyalties to newspapers. And in the U.S., tabloid-sized newspapers are associated more closely with ‘tabloid journalism’.

A transformation has to win both the circulation battle and the advertisers battle. Higher circulation stimulates advertising demand, while advertising pays for most production costs.

As the size of pages shrink, so can the ads; advertisers may not want to pay the same price for what they see as less exposure. They may also be anxious about ad placement. Newspapers sometimes use a format conversion to launch new advertising deals.

The tabloid chain reaction led the U.S.-based International Newspaper Marketing Association (INMA), which seeks to extend marketing activities of newspapers, to hold a ‘Broadsheet to Tabloid: Format Change Summit’ last month in London. The meeting focused on the "market to market battle" of convincing advertisers that a page in a broadsheet would have "the same or better impact" in tabloid format.

"The size will be smaller than the current broadsheet format and edited more tightly than most existing newspapers," experts Len Kubas and Ed Strapagiel said in a paper published by INMA. "Newspapers will be increasingly targeted to the specific audiences that advertisers want to reach. Also, newspapers will mainly be available for free or for a modest price, and will be primarily supported by advertising, just like television."

But what has been the effect of this trend on content?

The biggest selling Swiss daily, Blick, brought out a trial compact edition with the slogan: "Two formats – same content." But is it really the same?

"There is not so much space for editorial stuff any longer. The reduction in quantity is obvious," Prof Håkan Hvitfeldt who teaches journalism at Stockholm University told IPS. "Papers are getting smaller in many senses. Newsrooms are also getting smaller.. It’s a trend."

Last year 2,160 Swedish journalists claimed unemployment benefit from the union for journalists.

"Newspapers will have to get better at reporting faster, but one of the joys of the printed word is the opportunity to read at length, so I believe that the magazine elements of newspapers will continue, and so will long articles," Chisholm told IPS. "It is an intrinsic value of the newspaper medium."

High quality papers are in general substantially better-staffed than the weak ones, by about 20 percent, says a report released in May 2002 by Poynteronline, an organisation specialising in media training and good practices.

But Chisholm says "the size of the newsrooms is over related to the quality of the newspaper. Quality newspapers generate massively more advertising revenues per copy than ‘popular’ newspapers, but they also find it harder to generate profits, and this is because they largely have too many journalists relative to their revenue generating capability."

"The quality isn’t suffering…at least from where I sit," he added.

Hvitfeldt says that in Sweden "papers are getting more typically tabloid in content, more sensationalist to some extent. The Skånska (Skånska Dagbladet), for example, has got better, more interesting. But I think it has been a catastrophe for Dagens Nyheter if you compare it what it used to be."

"I am not saying that tabloid equals necessarily bad quality and sensationalism," he said. "A serious paper like El País (in Spain) is also a tabloid." So, size-wise, are such influential and respected publications as Le Monde in France, El Mundo in Spain and La Repubblica in Italy.

(*The story was moved Mar. 17. The re-issued story corrects the particulars of the publication quoted in the para beginning "U.S. papers are not following this trend…" The third line read: ‘But "as wave upon wave of smaller formats pop up in Europe…the scene in the United States is oddly tranquil," says an article published last November by Newspapers & Technology, the magazine of IFRA, a U.S. based association for media publishing.’ This has been corrected to read: ‘But "as wave upon wave of smaller formats pop up in Europe…the scene in the United States is oddly tranquil," says an article published in a July-August 2004 issue by Newspaper Techniques, the monthly magazine of Ifra, a Europe-based association for newspaper and media publishing.’)

 
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