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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Impact of the Compact

MARIO GARCIA of Garcia Media, a newspaper designer and a strong advocate of format change for newspapers.

Tabloid fever -- is the temperature going down?
Mr. Garcia, during his presentation focussed on general tips for conversion of newspapers (broadsheet) into compacts (tabloids).

"Its the best of times to rethink what they (the editors) do and how they do it".

Some early influences on change of format:
Free newspapers, which have tremendous impact. According to Garcia, free press is coming to a second stage, becoming more sophisticated. This gives the newspapers more incentive to try harder and become better. Take the example of Metro, which for Garcia, is highly
sophisticated and appealing to readers who normally never read papers.

The other idea is of the almost free press: papers which are inexpensive, try to attract readers and do the job (examples are Chicago Sun Times, Germany: 20 Cents)

Why compacts? The world is moving into everything smaller, cameras, mobile phones. "Since 1984, I have not attended a single focus group where the readers did not prefer the tabloid version of newspapers".

The ideal compact has larger photographs and less text. The reason for the success of the compact is: lower story counts and shorter texts, there is s certain finality to tabloids, the timer factor is also very important. It is important to note that the profile of the readers is of a tech savvy individual.

"Technology has turned us into multimedia users". According to a report by Poynter Institute (Tampa, Florida), most readers use two media at a time.

There is a growing culture of 'always on': a typical day in the life of a media and tech savvy reader involves picking up the paper in the morning, then reading it again at about 9.30 in the morning, then again at about 7.30 in the evening. There is also the idea of a person sitting at the beach using a cell phone and laptop at the same time. Papers are not read at one sitting and people are managing two-3 media at the same time.

The good news is: people are reading, they may not be reading newspapers but they are still reading (Harry Potter books are a good example, the average reader for approximately 766 pages of the book is 14 years old).

Another example is the New Yorker, which has recently had one million subscriptions.
How does one change from Broadsheet to compact:

1. Decide the size, a consideration would be what size should the compact be (longer european style or micro tabloids like some US papers are using). Garcia favours the longer version due to its ability to host larger photographs and text.
2. Say goodbye to the broadsheet canvas. Say hello to larger photographs; the compact has more photographic than text driven. However, "you can have a classic look and still be a tabloid".
3. Increase the size of headlines. Headlines are very important in compact papers: the way they are placed, where they are placed.
4. Photographs are King in compacts. Larger photographs are preferred to smaller ones, the medium sized photographs are not used at all. Its either a larger photo or a pretty small one. The reason is that most readers are familiar with small photos through mobile phones and MMS.
In a compact, there can also be TWO LEADS: a visual lead (photograph) and a word lead (text).
5. Advertisements and compacts: Ads benefit greatly from compact newspapers. With broadsheet, people (readers) FOLD the paper, so they treat page 2 as page 2. In compacts, both pages are kept open. This makes it more important for advertisers to use compacts.
6. Make the transition one section at a time. The transition from broadsheet to compact does NOT have to be done all at once. Starting with one section is a good idea (sports section is a good start). ANother way of changing is to make format changes within the newspaper itself. Even if the paper is not going to change into compact, it is better to rethink certain format changes. A good idea started by a few papers is having two front pages (one in the front and another at the back). "Readers hate the flip...it is better to have a front door and a back door".
7. Tabloid perception holds you (editors) back. Thankfully, readers do not have this perception. Most readers prefer smaller text, compact papers. "You have to deal with the tabloid perception, like therapy". Nobody else thinks tabloids are less than serious.

Conclusion: make the transition successfully. Having the US publishers asking about compacts is a major step. The Wall Street Journal going compact is a great sign that things are changing.

The readers win!

Posted by: Zebunnisa Burki

Posted by john burke on May 31, 2005 at 04:16 AM | Permalink


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I am sorry. My mistake; I guess I confused both places. Thank you for the correction!


Posted by: Zebunnisa Burki at Jun 7, 2005 10:31:27 AM

The Poynter Institute is in St. Petersburg, FL, not Tampa.

Posted by: Larry Larsen at May 31, 2005 9:32:08 PM