In 1988 at the launch of the striking David Hillman redesign of the Guardian, I asked the then editor Peter Preston why the paper had not followed some leading European titles in opting for a tabloid format. “This country is not ready for a serious tabloid,” he said in answer. Today, just a few days, after Preston’s death, the Guardian is going tabloid.
It is not doing so for reasons of clarity, design or reader experience, though the newspaper has been working to achieve all three. The reason lies in costs. The publisher is going to make substantial savings by turning off its presses and switching to Trinity Mirror. Ironically the huge investment in the Manroland press lines at Newsprinters was justified on cost saving grounds: News UK could sell its Wapping site and far fewer staff would be needed to run the presses in Broxbourne, Glasgow and Knowsley.
It has proved to be a stunning move as the plant collects contracts to print national newspaper after national newspaper. First its own titles, then the Telegraphs and FT. The Mail titles remain in their own factory, though the publisher has closed its Didcot site, while the Trinity Mirror plant in Watford would dearly love to print the Daily Express and Star to spread its own overheads as well as its new guest. As circulations continuing to fall, remaining print readers will have to bear an increasing share of production and distribution costs over the coming years. Nor is digital printing the full answer yet, but for the sake of the printed newspaper, a viable long term solution is needed.