Reductions in page width are commonplace in the US, with most ‘broadsheets’ anything but broad, and slashed by paper savings to an ugly rectangle.
Now the independent Ohio publisher of the ‘Columbus Dispatch’ is counting down to the day when things get back in proportion… reformatting with a one-third cut in page depth. Interestingly, they will do so on the same double-width presses which had been printing the broadsheet.
Apart from its own newspaper, the paper prints a couple of titles for publishing giant Gannett, and elsewhere, Gannett itself is taking a different route to achieve a compact “tabloid” format.
In a kind of ‘death by a thousand cuts’, American newspapers have been reducing web widths for years in the name of saving paper. Each change has required costly engineering: But instead of upgrading to improve quality and efficiency or boost colour, the actual effect is of course to reduce the amount of press capacity used.
The privately-owned ‘Columbus Dispatch’ is taking a different course, with a new two-thirds page depth both saving paper and increasing the number of pages produced by a half.
Change doesn’t come lightly for the 141-year-old, and follows “the most research we have ever done”, according to chief marketing officer and Dispatch Digital vice president Phil Pikelny. Nor fast, with reconfiguration of the paper’s existing four presses on track for a September 10 introduction, with “no looking back”.
Dispatch is moving to a new page width but the biggest change is that it will get three page lengths from a cylinder revolution instead of two, retaining – and adding to – the section format enjoyed by readers of broadsheet titles.
The work which includes the supply of new Foldex NJ2C folders, is in the hands of Pressline Services USA, which has patents pending on what it calls a 3Volution conversion. The presses are also being engineered to handle web widths of 1066 and 1168 mm in addition to the current 1118 mm.
Among others providing supporting technology are German plate management specialist Nela – supplying punch benders and responsible for the revised plate lock-ups in the Pressline contract – and Harland Simon, upgrading its auto-impositioning system. Quipp stackers, Goss Magnapack inserters and Schur palletisers are also being modified, with a fifth Magnapak being sourced from Cincinnati.
The Dispatch company has four double-width TKS M72 presses, each with a colour deck and tower. By adopting a new plate format – in which the plate is the length of the cylinder circumference – and retaining the old folders, it will be able to print either format.
Three new Krause LS Performance XXL platesetters – a format originally designed for the Korean market – have also been installed. Each exposes about 160 of the long ‘three-around’ plates an hour, equivalent to about 480 single plates – and is designed to support mixed production of the two sizes.
Phil Pikelny says newspapers “had to be more convenient” and claims he was stunned when members of a focus group smiled in response to samples. “It’s the Goldilocks principle… not too small, not too large.”
Some 80 per cent of those who saw samples liked it and no-one said they would cancel because of the change (although three per cent said they probably would). Content following the press changes and a comprehensive redesign will be “identical or more” with eight entry points on the front page. In a sample Thursday edition produced to show stakeholders, there are no fewer than six sections – each separately folded – including a second A-section cover.
Of the Cincinnati and Kentucky Gannett newspapers, Dispatch will print under contract, Pikelny says, “Cincinnati needed a new press, and the printing deal was sealed on a handshake.”
The Columbus newspaper – with daily circulation of 143,000 and 267,000 Sundays – has been family-owned for 110 years, with present head John F. Wolfe in charge since the 1990s, who Pikelny describes as a “very collaborative” owner, able and willing to proceed on a project such as this. He won’t say what the engineering cost is, the prerogative of a private owner with no outside shareholders to account to. In addition to the newspaper, Wolfe family interests include property, local TV, community newspapers and about 30 websites.
Work on one of the four presses, originally installed in the 1990s, will be complete by July, with all four ready for the September 10 ‘go live’. Production of the two Gannett papers – Cincinnati has a 162,000 weekday, 283,000 Sunday circulation – is set to move to Columbus shortly after.
Then, we suspect, the attention of newspaper publishers around the world will be on ‘Ohio’s greatest home newspaper’ to see whether they can use the idea themselves.
A more conventional conversion, effectively reversing the US trend to narrower web-widths, is underway at Burlington, Vermont, where a five-unit Goss Metro press at the much smaller ‘Free Press’ is being converted back from a 1220 mm web width to the 1524 mm of which the press was originally capable.
Slitting these webs will deliver a tabloid of 508 mm deep and 280mm wide and – with high-speed MPEL stitchers being installed after each former – up to four sections can be delivered. The press has two colour decks, enabling it to print four-colour on one side of two webs.
Pressline is also doing the work, including ribbon superstructure, and director Jim Gore says the option is a good one for smaller newspapers, “under 50,000 copies and less time-critical production,” he says. “In big cities and at sites that want to do contract printing, there’s a need to go fast, and for them the three-around 3V is a better concept.”
Neither publisher is increasing the proportion of colour pages to mono on their presses – something Asian and Australian readers might find strange – although both conversions increase the notional number of colour pages.
Whether these different moves to a “tabloid” format are the start of a trend in North America remains to be seen.
Gore, however, admits, “I’m hoping”. Other publishers in this giant market – with even more at stake – may have their fingers crossed too.