As readers and advertisers continue to migrate to the Web, newspapers have started to contract by reducing their size and jettisoning mainstays such as stock tables.
"A lot of this has already been going on across a wide swath of newspapers," said Ken Doctor, lead analyst with research and advisory firm Outsell, who predicted that newspapers will become primarily online products over the next decade. "What's significant is that the national papers that command the greatest attention and greatest profit are now biting the bullet and saying, `We need to follow this trend.' "
Some of the nation's top dailies have already trimmed their size and transferred content to the Web, or plan to do so in the near future:
Starting in January, The Wall Street Journal, now 15 inches wide, will shrink to 12 inches-a full column narrower. The depth of the page will stay the same, at 223/4 inches. The Journal will change from a 60-inch to a 48-inch web width, which in the last few years has become the industry standard among the nation's roughly 1,500 daily newspapers.
In April, The New York Times replaced six pages of financial tables with two pages of analytical tools and market summaries. Online readers of NYTimes.com now have a broad array of functions for stock coverage, including customizing tools. The Times' Sunday print edition continues to run stock listings.
Tribune Co. announced in January that its flagship Chicago Tribune would cut back on stock tables. (Rumors persist on Wall Street that Tribune Cop. might be the next major newspaper holding company to go on the block.) The Los Angeles Times and Newsday , both owned by Tribune Co., announced similar cutbacks in their printed stock tables.
The Seattle Times eliminated Sunday stock tables in 2005.
The Washington Post shrank in 1998 to reduce newsprint costs.
The Wall Street Journal also is considering getting rid of its printed stock tables. "It's all about what readers want," said Judy Barry, senior VP-sales and marketing at the Journal.
With declining circulation, a relatively flat ad market and sluggish stock prices, some analysts say the writing is on the wall for newspaper companies. In an increasingly digital age, newspapers must decide what content is better suited for online than print.
Marketers say the trend is accelerating. The ongoing shifts of print content to online "is the tip of the iceberg," said Stephen Carlson, associate media director at StarLink Worldwide, whose clients include the American Medical Association and Caterpillar Inc. He added that TV listings, entertainment listings, sports statistics and weather reports might be in line to be eliminated from newspapers.
"These are the areas where people are getting conditioned to go online," Carlson said. "There's probably going to be a small percentage of readers who are going to be upset by the changes. But in the longer term more companies will be pulling more information from print to try and boost the newspaper as a media vehicle and get more access to consumers online."
With more people tracking the headlines and breaking news online, newspapers will probably start to look more like magazines. "You're going to see more insight, color and features," said James Murphy, chief marketing and communications officer for Accenture, a major advertiser in both The Wall Street Journal and on WSJ.com. "I'm reluctant to predict the demise of newspapers, but there's got to be much more of an integrated model."
It could be argued that major newspapers are playing catch-up with advertisers.
"Most people's response was, `Why didn't you do it sooner?' " said Todd Haskell, VP-business development for the New York Times Media Group. He said there has been no decrease in b-to-b ad revenue as a result of cutting the stock tables from print and that any backlash has been "minimal."
Asked about the various changes at the Times , Haskell said: "The common thread is a recognition that the marketplace has shifted and readers are looking to get information however it's going to be most valuable to them. We're now looking at the whole product and figuring out the best way to deliver information."
The Times and Microsoft Corp. in late April introduced software to allow readers to download an electronic version of the newspaper and view it on a portable device that isn't necessarily connected to the Internet.
The software will enable the Times to duplicate its look-both layout and typefaces-more closely than its Web site now does.
The Times said it would charge advertisers to appear in the new version of the newspaper, called "Times Reader." The new software will be available for Times readers shortly.