By: MICHAEL LIEDTKE
With its circulation falling faster than that of any other major U.S. newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle is determined to set the pace in a flashier way: It’s about to become the first general-interest daily to print its editions on high-quality glossy paper.
The new look, scheduled to debut in Monday’s newspaper, is part of the Chronicle’s effort to create a more visually appealing newspaper as more readers turn to the Internet for free information and entertainment.
The magazine-style glossy paper would make its print edition more pleasing to read and could help the newspaper attract more advertisers looking to make their products shine.
The Chronicle, the largest newspaper in technology-driven northern California, has been hard hit by the migration to the Internet. Its weekday circulation plunged nearly 26 percent from a year ago to an average of 251,782 during the April-September period, more than any other big-city newspaper in the United States.
The decline extended a pattern that has been unfolding throughout the decade. In 2001, the Chronicle’s weekday circulation stood at 527,000.
Despite the latest circulation losses, Chronicle management says the newspaper is in far better financial shape than it was last year when the publication lost about $50 million, prompting its owner, Hearst Corp., to threaten a sale or closure in February.
The turnaround since then has been driven by painful cost-cutting that
eliminated hundreds of jobs this year and by higher newspaper prices.
The Chronicle now charges $7.75 per week for home delivery, up from $4.75 per week last year, and a $1 on the newsstand, up from 75 cents. That has helped offset some of the industrywide declines in advertising sales?still the main source of newspaper revenue even as readers are asked to foot a larger part of production costs.
The Chronicle is now making money in some weeks, something it rarely did in recent years, according to Mark Adkins, the newspaper’s president. The newspaper is taking advantage of its newfound prosperity by making improvements, such as the switch to a slightly thinner type of glossy paper than what is used in magazines.
The glossy paper will be used on the Chronicle’s front page as well as the first page of most other sections. It will also show up on some pages inside the newspaper.
Because glossy paper usually is more expensive than traditional newsprint, it’s unlikely the Chronicle would be making such a move without some advertisers already lined up to help foot the bill, said newspaper analyst Ken Doctor of Outsell Inc.
The Chronicle confirmed it has secured some advertising commitments for the new glossy format, but it would not provide details or discuss the paper’s costs.
The switch also is another sign of how newspapers are targeting their print editions at niche markets as their circulation shrinks. In this case, Doctor said the Chronicle seems to be focusing on older, more affluent readers?a demographic more likely to appreciate spiffier paper. It’s also an audience prized by advertisers selling luxury products.
Some trade publications such as Variety and Hollywood Reporter already print on glossy paper.
The Chronicle is sprucing up just as two of the nation’s three largest newspapers are aggressively courting the San Francisco Bay area’s affluent residents and high-end advertisers. The New York Times introduced a special Bay area edition last month and The Wall Street Journal is launching one on Thursday.
Proclaiming itself as “The Voice of The West,” the Chronicle has had a tendency to stand out from other newspapers since its inception 144 years ago. It started to print its sports section on green paper decades ago and has a history of quirky headlines such as “A Great City’s People Forced to Drink Swill” in a story about the quality of coffee in San Francisco restaurants.
The Chronicle began laying the groundwork for the move to glossy paper in July when it closed its own presses and shifted production to a $200 million printing plant run by an outside contractor.