After nearly five years’ gestation, the first sectioned compact paper in the United States, using an innovative “three-around” technology, will be published Jan. 28 in Columbus, Ohio.
Columbus Dispatch Editor Benjamin Marrison announced the start date in a column Sunday. Gannett’s Cincinnati Enquirer has also contracted to switch to compact and will be printed 100 miles away at the Dispatch, probably starting later this quarter.
The new pages are about a third smaller than a typical broadsheet. They’re 14.75 inches long by 11 inches wide; folded in two, one page is roughly the shape and size of an iPad screen.
The two papers had announced the move in August 2011. Retrofitting existing presses is a lengthy and expensive process, and software glitches postponed the conversion, first planned for September 2012, by an added four months.
Marrison describes the new format as “wholesale change, top to bottom,” though reader and advertiser acceptance has been tested in extensive market research, and its benefits heavily marketed.
Those benefits include color capacity on every page, more heft and better display opportunities for editorial content and ads. A cylinder prints three pages rather than two, allowing a 50 percent increase in the press run per hour. There are also significant savings in paper use.
This allows a newspaper to add content and increase the ratio of news to ads and still produce the print edition less expensively. In the Dispatch’s case, Marrison wrote, the paper will restore a freestanding business section and add a second A section with national and international news.
Vendor Pressline Services continues to look for other orders. Pressline’s Mark Huck stopped by Poynter on a Florida sales swing earlier this month and said that there is still a wait-and-see attitude among potential customers. A number are doing prototypes and reader studies, he said, including groups of papers that might convert together.
I have written several times about the mix of industry interest in the sectioned compact and reluctance to take the plunge. The Chicago Tribune produced an impressive prototype in 2008 but opted in the end not to make the conversion.
On the one hand, the format change guarantees big savings and is more gracefully proportioned than broadsheets whose width has been repeatedly trimmed. But the changeover is expensive, time-consuming and radical for an industry that still is more comfortable with incremental improvements.
For a given paper, it also involves a calculation of how durable a business the daily printed edition appears. It makes little sense to convert if you think digital-only is on its way in a few years or the intermediary step of reducing print frequency to two or three days a week is on the horizon.
Gannett has been more willing than most to experiment with smaller formats. When it bought new presses for its Shreveport, La., and Lafayette, Ind., papers it switched to Berliner, a tall, narrow format popular in Europe. And it produces the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press as a “stitched tabloid,” using a competing technology offered by a Swedish company.
The compact format would be a good fit editorially and a money-saver for USA Today, but since that paper is printed at various locations around the country, doing so would likely be impractical.
If Columbus and Cincinnati do execute the changeover successfully, the economics will probably drive others to follow, especially given some renewed optimism lately on print’s lifespan.
Correction: This post originally misspelled the last name of Columbus Dispatch Editor Benjamin Marrison.