Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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389 words

Newspapers are changing. At least in Britain. Large 'broadsheet' papers start offering smaller 'tabloid' sized offsprings of themselves. This is discussed by Die Zeit in their current issue (40/2004, p35 available online for subscribers) and The Guardian this weekend.

My first intuition about this is that it's a very good idea. Smaller newspapers are easier to handle, and indeed the classical broadsheet-size paper can be rather annoying to handle. That's not fun and can keep people from reading. Particularly during a commute in cramped public transport, reading a broadsheet can be rude. Technically the reduction in size shouldn't be a problem, so why are people hesitant?

One reason seems to be that ad revenue is lower with smaller pages – while an ad of the same size catches more attention, people are also more likely to just flip the page as there is less potentially interesting stuff on the page. Fair enough. Another one seems to be that people fear journalism may suffer from the smaller pages as there'll be pressure to have more shorter pieces and the room for longer ones may vanish.

While I think that last point shouldn't be valid as you can get quite a lot of text even on a single 'tabloid' page (and that journalists, particularly English language ones, could save a lot of space by cutting the crap of quoting somone-or-another every other line and just summarising the stuff for me), it may be valid once the ads and other business forces get factored in. The papers I know of that work well at a small size, like die tageszeitung or Neue Zürcher Zeitung or the monthly Le Monde diplomatique aren't too bad at content. I don't think the small page size does any harm there (particularly the latter carries a lot of content). These papers may also have less ads than others, though.

Talking of ads, I'd be interested to see numbers about how much newspapers really cost. How much is the journalism? How much is printing and distribution? Which percentage of the cost is covered by me? How much would an ad-free paper be? Considering examples like die tageszeitung, which has few ads but notoriously badly paid staff at a slightly higher price than other dailies or of the free 'Metro News' style papers, these numbers could be quite strange.

September 26, 2004, 19:26

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