The Chicago Tribune is going tab. Sort of. In a move that sort of mirrors action taken by some broadsheet newspapers in London several years ago, the Trib announced today it will start distributing a semi-tabloid version of its weekday broadsheet starting next Monday at newsstands, retail outlets newspaper boxes and train and bus stations throughout the Chicago metro market. The new tab's cover price will be 75 cents, the same as the full-blown broadsheet edition of the paper that will continue to be delivered to the Trib's subscribers.
But oddly, the Trib's new venture won't be a pure tabloid product. As it turns out, only the news, business and sports sections will be in the tab format, while broadsheet versions of the featurey "Live!" "Play" and "Good Eating" sections will be inserted into the tab, leaving readers to deal with a newspaper that is, at best, a half breed.
The Trib's abrupt move announced today appears yet another way Trib management is responding to the huge outcry from unhappy readers that came in the wake of the newspaper's busy, loud redesign of its broadsheet unveiled last September. Per Trib Publisher Tony Hunter, commuters said they wanted a "more convenient" version of the paper that still contained all -- or most -- of the content in the broadsheet. "Companies succeed when they leverage strong brands and respond to customer feedback," said Hunter in a statement.
This latest move by the Trib also appears, at least in part, to be aimed at boosting its single copy sales in the city, where the Sun-Times has always had a much stronger presence. Mark Fitzgerald, the Chicago-based editor-at-large for the trade publication Editor & Publisher, thinks the Trib should have made such a move a long time ago. "People love the tabloid shape," said Fitzgerald, who also admitted he wasn't absolutely sure whether they'd love it enough to plunk down 75 cents for the Trib broadsheet editorial product reformatted as a tabloid.
Newspaper analyst John Morton expressed some skepticism about the Trib's tab move. "The Tribune Co. has been trying to do all sorts of things to reinvent the newspaper, but there is some risk they will damage it instead," said Morton. Still Morton suggested that if the response to the tab edition is favorable, the Trib could dump the broadsheet edition altogether. But such a move wouldn't please Morton. "I happen to like the broadsheet format," added Morton, who indicated a lot of advertisers do as well, because display adds can pop more in the larger format.
But in London, where newsstands play a strong role in the newspaper distribution process, several newspapers, including the Independent and the prestigious Times of London now offer tabloid versions of what had been pure broadsheet properties. Both have reported stronger newsstand sales as a result of the changeover.