Starting Monday, the Chicago Tribune will be publishing in both its traditional broadsheet format for home delivery and a new tabloid format for street sales.
Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds explains the benefits:
- In a commuter town like Chicago, a compact is often more desirable. Tribune presentation director Steve Cavendish confirms this in an interview about the change. “We’ve always known that there is a sizable portion of our readership that prefers the format and would read us as a compact,” he says. “Every time we’ve done surveys or focus groups, there’s a segment (primarily commuters) whom we’ve had to tell ‘Sorry, but we’re a broadsheet.’ Well, now we’re both. If you want a broadsheet, we’ll deliver it to your door. If you want a compact, we’ll sell it to you on the street Monday through Friday.”
- There could be newsprint savings. Because the compact is smaller, the ads are smaller and do not require as much paper in tabloid as they do in broadsheet. There may be some savings on the trim and margins, but if all the broadsheet content is included in more or less the same type size, they’d increase the number of pages in the tabloid version to get it to fit. The Tribune says it will publish “near-identical versions of the paper,” with news, sports and business sections in both and features sections in broadsheet, inserted into newsstand copies.
- The change could be transitional. The Times of London published both broadsheet and tab for a period, hedging its bet on reader acceptance. Ultimately it switched completely to tab.
The move raises some questions, including:
- What is the cost of laying out the paper twice? Poynter visual journalism faculty member Sara Quinn points out that the paper would have to be designed daily for two formats, with visuals, including ads, requiring adjustment.
- Won’t the new Tribune tabloid compete with Red Eye, the paper’s free tabloid? Cavendish says no, in an interview with SND. “They’re aimed at different markets. Unless the governor of our state is trying to get some of us fired or we’re inaugurating one of our own as president, you’ll likely see different topics on the front of each publication.”
- The paper has said the move will increase single copy sales, but will it? And will the cost of ads vary from tabloid to broadsheet?
American papers have been slow to experiment with compact formats, which are now dominant in most of the rest of the world. Credit the Tribune with a bold, real world, real-time test of whether it will catch on with readers, especially those who commute.