Wny are Newspapers the size they (typically) are?

Why are Newspapers the size they typically are? They are a pain to read that way. The ones that are smaller --about the size of a standard magazine-- are much easier to handle and read while sitting in a chair, on a subway, etc.

The way it is now, it seems like to get from an article on the front page to where it is continued inside (say, page A25), you either have to spread it out at arm’s length or do some oragami.

Because of the way their printing presses are configured. To switch to smaller configuration (like most European papers) would require capital investment to reconfigure the presses. US papers are already under significant pressure from loss of advertising revenues, that such a switch is cost prohibitive, without some certainty that consumers would value it and pay for it.

Broadsheet and tabloid are I think the different sizes that you are referring to. I agree that I never quite understood why broadsheets existed, although Wikipedia has something on it. The major broadsheet newspaper in Finland Helsingin Sanomat recently changed into the tabloid format, probably mainly explained by the tabloids being cheaper to produce and the general decline in printed newspaper subscriptions IIRC. Tabloid is better IMO.

Newspapers used to cover a lot more news than they do today, so the broadsheet size allowed them to put it on fewer pages, cutting costs.

I think there is something of a class divide, with the more upscale, white collar newspapers in broadsheet format, while the downscale, blue collar papers are in tabloid format. (One reason is that a tabloid is easier to read on the subway, while a broadsheet needs more space to spread out.)

Edited to add, the Wikipedia article on broadsheets says (uncited), “In some countries, especially Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US, broadsheet newspapers are commonly perceived to be more intellectual in content than their tabloid counterparts, using their greater size to examine stories in more depth, while carrying less sensationalist and celebrity material.”

Newspapers used to be much bigger than they are today. Try to find one in an antique store; they were enormous. The standard format was eight columns of type in a 15" width. Today most use six columns while some use five slightly wider ones. That’s because most papers have gone down in size to lessen paper costs and to accommodate newer printing presses that do color. My local paper is 11" wide, but the New York Times is a full 12".

It’s true that tabloids were designed to be read in cramped spaces like subways and also true that they almost always targeted a blue collar audience, while the elite papers stayed with the larger size. That meant that tabloids were limited to the very few major cities that had subways, though. The vast majority of cities after the 1920s had just two or three papers and they were all regular newspaper format. Home delivery became more important as well. Few people seemed to think that a large paper was a problem at home. The percentage of the country that was in the middle class soared after 1950 so there was little incentive to go after the shrinking blue collar market.

But the overwhelmingly important reason was that the larger size was preferred by advertisers. A full page ad was a powerful display tool. Department stores, furniture stores, movies, automobile companies, supermarkets all took out regular full page and multi-page ads in the broadsheets. Almost all newspaper revenue came from this advertising (and the classifieds) so the preferences of the readers were secondary. The more advertising, the larger the newspaper. Newspapers don’t want people to see nothing but pages after pages of ads so they put in news articles around all the ads that don’t fill up whole pages, i.e. the majority. Newspapers grew very fat with advertising and so got fatter overall. That again favored the broadsheets, since hugely fat tabloids lessened the ease of reading which was their selling point.

There’s a factlet floating around the web that claims that the broad sheet was brought into vogue by the newspaper subsection of the Stamp Act of 1712. The claim is that the tax was levied on papers over a certain page count, so the workaround was bigger pages. Nothing I’ve found supports with origin however. The tax was based on price and frequency of publication.

For a long time, “tabloid” was synonymous with “trashy, sensationalist scandal sheet”, often used specifically as a term for them, rather than a printing format. That is still the case, to some degree. Traditionally, that stigma often kept legitimate newspapers from exploring the format, though a few bucked the trend. Back in the early 80s I lived in Denver, which had two major dailies. The Rocky Mountain News used a tabloid format, and it was much more convenient. But it was unusual.

The tabloid format does present a problem with sections. There are some ways around it, but the broadsheet format makes it much more convenient for handing somebody else the sports section while you continue to read the news.

In the days before web presses (say, before 1900) newspapers were printed on individual sheets in hand cranked presses. Big sheets meant fewer sheets run through the press to make the newspaper. Broadsheet newspaper pages are the result.

ASGuy – A Printer by education and career

I’d push that back before rotary presses, which means before around 1850.

Curious as to how this cuts costs. Surely the same number of words fits on the same area of paper overall, no matter the size of the individual pages?

Surely a 15" wide paper hold more words than an 11" wide paper.

Newspapers also tend to use more white space and larger type sizes than they once did. I’ve done lots of research in old newspapers and front pages typically had 10-20 stories, dense with words and with few pictures. Here’s an example pulled out at random.

However, the amount of news covered was and is purely a reflection of the amount of advertising to be accommodated.