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European papers go tabloid

The Wall Street Journal Europe follows suit this fall.

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As US newspaper publishers battle plummeting sales and daunting credibility problems, they might look across the Atlantic for rescue from their plight.

European newspapers face many of the same problems as their American cousins. An increasing number of them, though, are seeking salvation through a simple but dramatic change: they are going tabloid.

The newest convert to this trend is the Wall Street Journal, whose loss-making European edition will turn tabloid in October, along with its sister Asian paper, the company announced this month.

Nothing could better show that "the myth that big papers are respectable and small papers are sensationalist has been blown away completely," says Jim Chisholm, strategy adviser to the World Association of Newspapers.

Newspapers across Europe have been trying many tricks to staunch the ebb of readers seeking their news elsewhere. At Italian newsstands, it is often hard to find the papers themselves among the children's toys, calendars, CDs, and paperbacks being offered as promotional gifts with dailies or weekly magazines.

But such gimmicks offer only temporary respite, say industry analysts, and except for free papers such as the "Metro," circulation is falling for almost all papers, from the heaviest of the European heavies, France's "Le Monde," to the most sensationalist British tabloids.

London's Independent was the first to reverse that trend. In 2003, it introduced a tabloid edition, sold alongside the broadsheet version to reassure readers that the content had not changed.

Customers loved it for its convenience, especially on crowded commuter trains. The Independent's circulation rose more than 15 percent, year on year, and within months the broadsheet had disappeared.

It was not long before the venerable Times of London followed suit, turning a circulation loss of 8 percent a year into a gain of nearly 3 percent. The Guardian, another of Britain's most respected dailies, announced recently that early in 2006 it would be changing to a "compact" form (a term editors prefer to the still soiled image attached to the word "tabloid").


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