Rolling Stone magazine is shrinking with the times.
After more than four decades of standing out with a larger format than other magazines, it will step back and look like everyone else starting with the Oct. 30 issue, due out this week.
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The adoption of a standard format could boost single-copy sales and reduce production costs for advertising inserts such as scent strips and tear-out postcards. The magazine says any cost savings, though, will be offset by the inclusion of more pages and the shift to thicker, glossier paper.
Like other devoted readers, Eddie Ward, 35, said he will miss the old format, which was an inch taller and two inches wider. But he looks forward to the change and might even buy a “more
fashionable” bag to carry his belongings.
“For years since I graduated from college, I have refused to buy a small messenger bag … since it couldn’t fit my Rolling Stone,” said Ward, a publicist who lives in New York. “I never wanted to crease the pages or put cracks in the cover.”
Rolling Stone chose Barack Obama, who is campaigning for president on a theme of change, for the cover of the Oct. 30 issue. By contrast, the last issue in the oversize format featured a
cartoon of Obama’s opponent, John McCain.
“Like the man we are featuring on the cover for the third time in seven months … we embrace the idea of change,” editor Jann S. Wenner wrote in the new issue. “Not change for the sake of change, but change as evolution and growth and renewal, change as the kind of cultural renaissance that gave birth to Rolling Stone more than four decades ago.”
Magazines constantly undergo redesigns — The Atlantic, for instance, debuts new sections with its November issue out Tuesday. A few also have changed dimensions over the years, including TV Guide, which grew into a full-size format in 2005.
In fact, Rolling Stone has changed formats twice before. It first published in 1967 as a tabloid-size newspaper because that was all its budget covered. It began printing on a four-color press
in 1973 and magazine-quality paper in 1981, when it also shrank to its just-abandoned 10-by-12-inch size and adopted the feel of a magazine-newspaper hybrid.
The switch to a standard format completes the magazine’s transformation into, well, a magazine and comes as readers depend less on the printed pages for breaking news common in newspapers, said Anthony DeCurtis, a longtime writer for the magazine.
And size may not matter in the Internet era, though Rolling Stone says the Web site will remain supplemental to print, which has seen circulation stable since 2006 at about 1.45 million.
The decision to change officially came down to this: Why not?
“The size is a nostalgic element but not the iconic part of the magazine,” publisher Will Schenck said in an interview. “Evolution and change is part of our DNA.”
Will Dana, the magazine’s managing editor, said the size change forced Rolling Stone to “think a little differently … (and) open our minds out a little more.” He said editors can now squeeze in
more content and better sprinkle longer stories with photos, though he insists the length and types of stories won’t change.
Rolling Stone said it will add enough pages to each issue to offset the loss of space from switching to the smaller size. The 148 pages in the next issue, for instance, accommodate about as much material as 100 pages in the old size.
The smaller format lets the magazine run more full-page photos, however, because each now takes up less surface area. Comic strips and other elements also take less space, even though they are in the same proportion to the rest of the page. That opens the added pages to new content.
Likewise, full-page ads will take less space — though ad rates won’t drop.
“It’s like, should somebody pay more for a commercial on TV if it’s a 50-inch screen or a 20-inch screen?” Schenck said. “We’re really selling the relationship with readers, and the size of the
ad is really irrelevant.”
This summer, Rolling Stone produced one issue in both formats and sent 3,000 copies of the smaller version to selected subscribers. The feedback was mostly positive — to the surprise of
even many at Rolling Stone.
The new paper should make photographs shine more, and the smaller size will make it easier to carry and read. A glued rather than stapled binding should make ad inserts easier to produce.
The new size also will fit better on magazine racks and could help boost single-copy sales, which now account for only 8 percent of the magazine’s circulation.
“We’re expecting to get better placement,” Schenck said. “Right now because of the size, it tends to be placed on the floor.”
Ana Barbu, a student at Adelphi University near New York who regularly reads the magazine, said she hopes the change will expose the magazine to readers previously intimidated by seeing so much text on the larger pages.