Already facing shrinking circulation and a flat advertising market, the newspaper industry also has been socked with newsprint costs high enough to force some of the nation's largest and best-known papers to change the way they look and feel.
Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal, said yesterday that the Journal will shrink by lopping three inches off its width. Beginning in January 2007, the front page of the Journal, which is now 15 inches wide, will be 12 inches wide -- an entire column narrower. The depth of the page will stay the same, at 223/4 inches.
The downsizing will mean some changes in the Journal's appearance, the company said. The inside pages will remain six columns, albeit six fairly narrow columns with a half-inch sliced off each, but the paper has not decided what will become of the Journal's iconic six-column front page. Regardless, spokeswoman Amy Wolfcale said yesterday, the paper "will remain very recognizably the unique look of the Journal."
The paper's "news hole," or how much space is taken up by articles, photos and graphics, will shrink by about 10 percent, Wolfcale said.
It will take $56 million over the next 15 months to refit the company's 19 presses across the country to print the smaller size and to retrain employees, Dow Jones said yesterday. It then expects to recoup $18 million a year in newsprint costs from the reported $115 million a year it spends on newsprint for all its publications.
Barron's, Dow Jones's business weekly, will shrink by three inches from top to bottom. The company's 33 daily and weekly Ottaway papers across the country reduced size between 2000 and 2003.
The Journal is the most recent paper to combat higher newsprint prices by reducing its paper consumption.
In addition to layoffs, the New York Times recently said it would use a lighter weight of newsprint to try to offset rising costs. The Washington Post shrank in 1998 to reduce newsprint costs, coinciding with the rollout of its new presses.
Newsprint prices have risen steadily since bottoming out at $435 per metric ton in 2002. On Oct. 1, they jumped $35 per ton to $625 per ton -- their highest historical price.
Newsprint comes from mills located mainly in Canada and the South. It seems counterintuitive that newsprint prices would rise as average national newspaper circulation has fallen over the past 18 years, but consolidation in the newsprint industry has led large manufacturers, such as South Carolina's Bowater Inc., to reduce newsprint manufacturing capacity, switching some plants from producing less-profitable newsprint to higher-profit, higher-grade paper. Therefore, though papers are using less newsprint, there is also less newsprint being manufactured, said newspaper industry analyst John Morton.
"The era of cheap newsprint for the newspaper business is over," Morton said. "And we can count on fairly regular price increases. At $625 per ton, [manufacturers] are just edging on profitability."
Also yesterday, Gannett Co., which prints 99 papers including USA Today, which has the nation's largest circulation, said rising newsprint costs were partially responsible for the company's third-quarter drop in profit, down 4.3 percent compared with the same period in 2004. Gannett has been downsizing its papers over the past few years and will shrink more in coming months, spokeswoman Tara Connell said yesterday. The efforts, she said, have allowed Gannett to reduce its newsprint consumption.