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To Trim, or Not to Trim? Skyrocketing Newsprint Costs Prompt Papers to Eye Downsizing

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

To Trim, or Not to Trim? Skyrocketing Newsprint Costs Prompt Papers to Eye Downsizing

Article excerpt

WITH NEWSPRINT PRICES soaring near $800 a metric ton, the newspaper industry has formed a committee to study trimming an inch off the width of the average newspaper.

The debated move to 50-inch-wide newsprint rolls, from the 54- or 55-inch rolls commonly used now, would reduce the size of a broadsheet page by less than 10%.

Any significant change is expected to fuel heated debate because it would downsize the format of the medium, giving readers and advertisers less, and forcing a similar downsizing in the standard advertising sizes the industry adopted in the early 1980s.

"It's probably the biggest issue to come up on the technical side of the business in a long time," R. Gene Bell, president and CEO of the San Diego Union Tribune, said when the issue came up during a session at the Nexpo conference in Atlanta.

Trimming web widths would reduce the newspaper industry's costs by many millions of dollars a year -- at the expense of newsprint mills. About 20[cts.] of every dollar newspapers spend they spend on paper, the largest budget item after salaries.

The Newspaper Association of America said it formed the committee, headed by Tribune Co. president and CEO John Madigan, to study the editorial, technical and market ramifications of reducing web widths. Formed on the recommendation of the NAA board's executive committee, Madigan's committee is supposed to release its report this fall.

While a number of papers have already trimmed a fraction of an inch from their margins to cope with rising newsprint prices, expected to hit record levels in September, trimming the image area is another issue altogether and entails a seismic shift in what has come to be a fairly standard format for news and advertising.

W. Scott Sherman, a doctoral candidate at Texas A&M in College Station, called the proposed cut "a good way to give competing media a strategic, competitive advantage."

"I'm not keen on the idea, but I think there are some market realities we are trying to deal with," Chuck Blevins, a consultant to newspapers, said on the same panel at Nexpo.

Blevins said any change should be be made "from a market perspective," but too many papers are considering trimming their page size "for all the wrong reasons" -- namely, lifting their sagging profit margins.

NAA, whose 1,500 U.S. newspapers represent 85% of daily circulation, formed the committee after two major newspaper groups had begun considering trimming page sizes, along the lines of the Toronto Star's 11 1/2-inch-wide page. …

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