Big hopes for smaller pages?

By November 7, 2011Uncategorized

It’s taken some time, but two of Scotland’s oldest and best-selling weekly newspapers are taking the leap from broadsheet to tabloid – or compact, as one insists – formats.

The Falkirk Herald, the Johnston Press flagship and Scotland’s best-selling weekly, makes the move on 10th November, while the Dunfermline Press – the east-of-Scotland flagship for Clyde & Forth – has become a compact this week.

Both titles will say that they are responding to reader demand and there’s an extent to which that must be true. The last Audit Bureau of Circulation figures, in August 2011, put the Dunfermline Press circulation at 15,679, compared to 16,624 the previous year. The Falkirk Herald’s circulation was given in August as 22,642, compared to 24,145 in August 2010.

Very few weekly titles are broadsheet these days, many having made the change over the past 20 years. Both the Falkirk Herald and the Dunfermline Press could be said to be catching up with the rest and adopting a format with which most readers are clearly more comfortable.

But cynics will argue that neither paper would have considered going tabloid at a time of buoyant sales and suggest that doing so now is a desperate measure to revive their fortunes.

Of course, I wish both titles well but, given the downward trend of newspaper sales, it’s hard to imagine that changing format will provide anything other than a temporary blip in declining circulation.

Another Johnston title, the Kirkcaldy-based Fife Free Press, went tabloid last year and its latest ABC figures showed a year-on-year rise of 0.9% – and believe me, any sales increase, however small, is good these days.

I hope I am wrong, but I have a suspicion that its next set of ABC figures will be somewhat less encouraging.

Tabloid papers may be more popular than broadsheets with readers, but I fear that no weekly newspaper publisher can have big hopes for changing to smaller pages. Unless, of course, their motive is providing a product their loyal readers want.