'WSJ' opts for smaller size

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When The Wall Street Journal slices 12 inches off its web width in January 2007, it won't just be a new look for its readers to enjoy. It will also provide a nice cash savings for Dow Jones executives to relish as well: an estimated $18 million a year.

And that number could go up, depending on how many pages the paper prints, according to Jim Pensiero, VP-operations for the Journal Group and assistant publisher. The estimate is based on the paper's current average number of pages, which is now in the mid 50s. "But if that number were in the 80s, we'd save in the mid-$20 millions," Pensiero said.

While the paper will be 20% smaller, the news hole will only be cut by 10%.

The Journal is retrofitting 19 presses across the country to accommodate the new size, but more important, the smaller format will enable the publisher to use other presses. The company currently flies copies to more remote locations such as Hawaii and Alaska but will have the option to print in those locations and give local readers later editions of the paper. "Those air freight bills are enormous," Pensiero said, "and that will be a huge change for us."

The retrofitting of The Journal presses will also enable Dow Jones to pick up printing work from other publishers. "No one wanted to use our larger size before, but now that is a possibility and it's much better to have that door exist rather than it not be an option at all," Pensiero said. The Journal's presses have 96 pages of straight-run capacity and 26 pages of straight color.

The Journal recently shifted its international papers from broadsheet format to tabloid, a process Pensiero said is much more complicated than what The Journal is planning for its U.S. edition.

"What I really feel here is that we've made a lot of changes in the last five years, and we've had a good team of decision-makers working together to make those things happen," Pensiero said. "I'm always wary of a big project and everything that can go wrong, but I feel good knowing we've done a lot of things right recently."

Chris Cuoco, VP-manufacturing for IDG's CIO, CMO and CSO magazines, has been through numerous page-size trims. "The conversation is always there, and it always heats up again when the postage is going to go up," he said. (Earlier this month the Postal Rate Commission approved a 5.4% rate increase for periodicals.)

Cuoco noted that the trims always save money on both postage and paper but can have a minor effect on back-of-the-book advertising. "So much is crammed in back there in most books that you need to redesign it or add some pages to take care of those ads," he said.

The key, Cuoco said, is making sure advertisers are notified of any size changes well in advance. "Most advertisers don't mind the change at all," he said, "but they all want to know why it's happening, and it just makes things easier for you if you tell them what's expected of them."

Advanstar will find new cost savings when it changes the trim sizes of all of its 103/4-inch-tall titles to 101/2 inches to take advantage of short cutoff presses, said Keith Hammerbeck, director of manufacturing services for the media company. This will save most of those publications 4.5% on paper.

As for reader response to the size change, Hammerbeck said most never notice.

Ron Reason, an independent newspaper design consultant who worked on the last Wall Street Journal redesign, said most readers react favorably to broadsheets reducing web widths. "In focus groups, they call the smaller size `handier,' " he said. "Following a web reduction, there rarely are complaints."

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