However, even the fact that a major metro daily considered such a drastic change reveals the increased interest in the tabloid format. In many cases, it's tabloids that are now roiling the tradition-bound newspaper industry.
Metro International's commuter-targeted tabloids started a chain reaction of major papers creating their own tabloids aimed at commuters and young adults. The Chicago Tribune's Red Eye and Chicago Sun-Times' Red Streak were among the first, last year followed by amNewYork, backed by Tribune Co., which also owns the tabloid Newsday; Express, from The Washington Post; CiN Weekly, from Gannett Co.'s The Cincinnati Enquirer; and in Dallas, Quick, published by Belo Corp.'s The Dallas Morning News, is taking on American Consolidated Media's A.M. Journal Express.
`Post' circ gains
The tabloid tableau goes beyond upstart little papers trying to snag readers who ignore the big dailies. One of the most vibrant newspaper battles is under way in the Big Apple between two tabloids, News Corp.'s New York Post and Mort Zuckerman's New York Daily News. The oft-outrageous Post has scored double-digit gains in circulation; the Daily News has brought in British tabloid editor Martin Dunn as editorial director.
The market value of the format itself is being tested as Hollinger International tries to find a buyer for the Chicago Sun-Times, one of the U.S.' major tabloids.
Although The Miami Herald didn't take the full plunge in the tabloid format, it dipped several toes in the water. With the redesign, its "Tropical Life" lifestyle section, which was a broadsheet insert, went tabloid. There's also a new section called "5 Minute Herald," a broadsheet page split in half presenting a quick view of the paper's contents in tabloid form.
The key question for newspapers is whether there's any more compelling reason to embrace the tabloid format than adding a few train-bound readers.
When newspapers make a format change, there's usually an immediate jump in circulation, benefiting the publication and its advertisers, says Earl J. Wilkinson, executive director of the International Newspaper Marketing Association. But this jump isn't necessarily permanent or the only thing advertisers should care about.
"When we're talking with newspapers-regardless of size-we're always looking for ways to be more innovative," she says.
Still, innovation is often easier for tabloids. For example, Long Island, N.Y.-based Newsday recently underwent a redesign and is now offering advertisers a new ad format. The paper is selling the bottom-right portion of its L-shaped section navigators, says design consultant Mario Garcia Sr. Each section of the paper includes the L-shaped graphic consisting of story teasers and space for an ad.
"They are doing it in all of the section openers. This is part of the tremendous influence that the Internet has-blending advertising and content in the same type of space. Advertising has been amplified," says Mr. Garcia, who oversaw the redesigns of Newsday and The Miami Herald.
Aside from aesthetics, tabloids have another benefit that broadsheets don't, says Mr. Garcia: People look at ads longer as a function of tabloids' design.
"The tabloid offers the advertiser a great opportunity because people look at a tabloid page differently," he says. "In a broadsheet, eyes move diagonally top left to bottom right. In a tabloid, people read like they would a magazine-you're always looking at two pages. If you have a full-page ad on Page 3 and stories on Page 2, the reader is exposed to the ad longer."
Detractors of the tabloid format, however, say its main drawback as an ad buy, vs. broadsheet, is size. Simply put, there's less real estate on a tabloid page, even though the size of a broadsheet has been shrinking. Unfortunately, that doesn't always translate to lower ad prices, another strike against the tabloid, says newspaper analyst John Morton, president of Morton Research.
But the biggest problem for advertisers, says Mr. Morton, is the loss of quality when a broadsheet ad is shrunk for a tabloid format.
Ultimately though, advertisers will buy into whatever readers prefer.
"Newspaper is such a geographic type of purchase you have to go with what's popular," says Charlie Valan, VP-associate director at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann, New York. "It's true it's easier to find a desirable [ad] position in a tabloid."
Industry pundits agree that even with the increased interest in tabloids, there will always be broadsheet papers. Says Edward J. Atorino, managing director with Blaylock & Partners: "Are the Wall Street Journals and New York Times' ever going tabloid? They have [much] invested in printing presses. It ain't going to happen."
Does that mean no major broadsheet, with a fortune invested in presses, would switch? In the U.K. , national broadsheets The Times and The Independent have launched tabloid editions.
"I do know of some big cities' fine broadsheet papers that are talking about going to tabloids. They've called us and asked us about it," says John Lavine, founding director of Northwestern University's Media Management Center & Readership Institute. "Might there be a tabloid version of a great broadsheet paper someday? Sure."