INCREDIBLE SHRINKING PAPERS; RISING NEWSPRINT PRICES IMPERIL SIZE OF U.S. DAILIES

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The size of every daily newspaper in America-broadsheet or tabloid-may be chopped by up to 4 inches sometime in the future.

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."

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