The Wall Street Journal is shrinking.
The Dow Jones & Co. flagship has been losing print ad pages since 2001, and this year is no exception. The newspaper’s advertising linage dropped 5.9% through August compared with the same period last year.
Now the newspaper is planning to get smaller in a different way. The Journal announced last Tuesday that in January 2007 it will reduce the width of the newspaper from 15 inches to 12 inches by moving from a 60-inch web width to a 48-inch web width. Other major newspapers, such as The New York Times and Washington Post, have reduced their web width in recent years, but with its move, the Journal will leapfrog past those newspapers to an even smaller size.
Karen Elliott House, the Journal’s publisher, said the move is being made primarily to give readers a better experience. The smaller newspaper is intended to be easier to read during a commute and simpler to navigate. “We’re doing it for the same reason anyone does anything, I believe, who runs a newspaper, and that’s to try to be even more useful to our readers,” House said.
Industry analysts, however, speculate the main motivation for the move is to save newsprint costs, which have risen markedly in recent years. The Journal estimated that shrinking the newspaper’s size would save $18 million annually in operating expenses after initial start-up costs of $56 million, including retrofitting, training and marketing.
“The major impact is to reduce newsprint consumption,” said John Morton, a newspaper analyst for Morton Research.
Rob Garrett, president of AdMedia Partners, a media investment bank, agreed, saying: “It makes sense in delivering a major saving in newsprint costs.”
Some observers were surprised, however, by how much the Journal planned to trim from its page size. “Three inches seems to me a hell of a lot,” Garrett said.
Morton said readers may initially be jarred by the change. “Going from a 15-inch width down to 12 inches will be kind of a jolt to their readers, but they’ll probably get over it,” he said.
The Journal, House said, is in the early stages of redesigning the newspaper for the small size to come. She said “What’s News” will definitely remain on the front page.
The design and size changes to the Journal are only the latest in a series of moves made over the last decade to help the franchise adjust to changes in the market that include the rise of the Internet, increased production costs and the reduced reliance of b-to-b marketers on print advertising.
The Journal has been extremely successful with a number of its alterations. For instance, the Online Journal at wsj.com is one of the few Web sites that has attracted paid subscribers in large numbers. The newspaper has also added sections such as “Personal Journal” and “Weekend Journal” to increase consumer advertising and make the publication less reliant on b-to-b pages.
The latest effort in this regard is the newspaper’s “Weekend Edition,” which is delivered on Saturday and debuted Sept. 17. The Journal said that initial reaction was positive, with 96% of subscribers to the “Weekend Edition” reading the premiere issue, according to research conducted by Beta Research Corp.