Discussions are taking place at the highest levels of the newspaper world by publishers who see no easing of newsprint prices. Since Janaury, newsprint costs have risen 35%, with another hike planned by several suppliers in September. For the largest chains, tens of millions-perhaps even hundreds of millions of dollars-might be saved by the radical downsizing-but nobody would take such a move unilaterally.
A high-level task force of publishers will survey newspapers on their reaction to the downsizing proposal, said Newspaper Association of America CEO Cathleen Black.
Currently, most broadsheets have a width of 54 inches or fractionally larger (a tabloid is basically a broadsheet cut in half) and the standard advertising unit, or SAU, is 13 inches. That means two SAUs can be accommodated on a single broadsheet page, or four per spread.
At Gannett Co.-where newsprint costs have risen from 15% of total expenses to 20% this year-CEO John Curley predicted the downsizing proposal would be major-up to 4 inches shaved off. "If we go, the number would have to be 50 [inches]," said Mr. Curley. He said he was "not taking a position one way or the other on it"-other than pushing for further study.
Even a relatively minor reduction in size can save a substantial amount. At the 357,788-circulation Orange County (Calif.) Register, VP-Production Roger Stowell said going to 50 inches would probably save the paper $10 million a year in newsprint.
Of course, nobody has yet asked the advertising community-or readers-how they would react. Said Steve Greenberger, VP of Grey Advertising, New York: "The question you have to ask is would awareness levels go down if the ad is smaller? There is no research I know that would tell us."