By: Joe Strupp
After completing a two-year conversion of its 85 daily papers from 52-inch web size to 48-inch, Gannett Co. Inc. is conducting a national review for a possible second size cut to 44-inch web.
The Visalia (Calif.) Times-Delta, a 23,174-daily circulation Gannett paper, already made the cutback in August, reducing its size to the 44-inch web, and plans are in the works to make similar changes soon at The Salinas (Calif.) Californian and The Spectrum in St. George, Utah, according to Austin Ryan, vice president/production for Gannett.
“I think the decision has been made, but I don’t know what are the conversion dates,” he said of the Salinas and St. George properties. “We are looking at each market on their own and trying to see what makes sense for each one.”
Ryan said the smaller size may well be seen in larger markets, noting that The Indianapolis Star and The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. are among the most likely candidates for a web reduction. “If they convert, it would be the first half of next year,” he said of the larger papers.
The 44-inch size would be a dramatic change, especially since it would make each page size 11 inches by 22 inches, meaning the width would be half the length.
Newspaper Designer Alan Jacobson of Brass Tacks Design in Norfolk, Va., acknowledged that the 44-inch Web is a first among U.S. newspapers. But he said the impact on readers and advertisers would not be significant if it was handled correctly.
“People like a smaller size as long as it is legible and easy to read,” he told E&P. “If the type is carefully handled, readers don’t care. Designers don’t like it because it upsets all of the visual proportions. But people don?t perceive they are getting a lesser product, a smaller paper to them is a value.”
Ryan had no specifics on cost savings from such cutbacks, but stressed that each market is different based on production capabilities and design. He also pointed out that a switch from 48-inch web to 44-inch web requires more production changes than a switch from 52-inch to 48-inch.
“This would be an 8 percent reduction,” he said. “The last one was only a 4 percent reduction. Unlike the change from 52 to 48, which is digital manipulation, you can’t do that with 44. It is too dramatic. There is major super structure work that has to be done. It impacts the entire market, design and layout of the newspaper.”
The effect on USA Today also must be taken into account as many of the Gannett newspaper printing sites also publish the national paper, which remains at 48-inches. “The age of the printing presses is a factor in all of this,” Gannett Spokeswoman Tara Connell added. “When we look at this kind of stuff, we look across the board.”
Ryan said Sue Clark-Johnson, president of the newspaper division, has directed the review of each paper. “I think she wants us to look at the feasibility of all of them. But some of them could not be right,” he explained. “The issue becomes finding the workforce to make the mechanical changes on the presses. A lot of [Gannett] people are just now moving to 48.”
Clark-Johnson was not immediately available for comment Friday.
The last Gannett paper to switch to 48-inch web was Florida Today in Melbourne, Fla., which converted in June, Ryan said.