Why Are Newspapers So Damn Large?

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Why are broadsheet newspapers so big that they cannot fit into a large scanner? Why were they as large as they were to begin with? One of the problems that used to annoy the daily commuter was the size of the broadsheet (The New York Times, in fact, offered booklets on how best to fold the paper vertically and horizontally). The tabloid was invented to avoid the wing or page-spread demands of the broadsheet.

Broadsheets, which connote a single poster-esque page, had an average measurement of approximately 2912 by 2312 inches (749 by 597 mm). This has narrowed over time as paper has become more expensive. In the U.K., the original rationale for the immense scale was that in 1712 the British enacted a newspaper tax based on the number of pages in each edition (those Brits with their taxes!).

In other parts of the world the size did matter and implied more authority. Broadsheets were used to post all sorts of official notices. Ultimately, a larger readership, hungering for more news, views and information triggered the combining of broadsheet proclamations with newspapers and the large format became the authoritative hybrid. Often they were printed in eight-page signatures, but of course, this changed markedly in the 20th century.

Today, the size of the broadsheet is threatened, in part because of paper and plant costs, but also because an entire newspaper can now be held in the palm of your hand. Seems a shame to lose it, but Sundays will be less guilt-inducing as the newsprint piles up in the corner while the smartphone pings the latest headlines.


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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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