Say It Isn't So, WSJ: A Tab?

The Wall Street Journal is going tabloid? Is nothing sacred? Does this mean we'll be picking up our trustworthy edition of the Journal every morning to find headlines like these?

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Confirmed! Bill Gates Actually an Alien!

OK, not really, but it's fun to imagine the revered Dow Jones (NYSE: DJ  ) publication running the salacious and titillating headlines so typical of the infamous tabloid publications we see in the supermarket. In truth, the Journal is going tabloid, but only in its overseas editions, and only as a cost-cutting measure.

In reality, the switch to a tabloid format refers to the size of the paper, rather than the content. Journal readers have long been familiar with the larger broadsheet style; the tabloid format is smaller and more compact, and it's being implemented overseas in an effort to save money. Dow Jones says it should save as much as $17 million from the format change beginning in 2006, with current-year savings running around $5 million after expenses.

The change is scheduled to occur in mid-October. The U.S. edition will remain a broadsheet. Competitor The Financial Times, which is published by Pearson (NYSE: PSO  ) , has reported no plans to change its format. The Journal also competes for advertisers and readers with The International Herald Tribune, which is owned by the New York Times (NYSE: NYT  ) .

A number of British newspapers, including The Times and The Independent, converted to a tabloid style in 2003, resulting in increased circulation numbers, as well as greater cost savings. The Asian Wall Street Journal (which will also receive a name change, to Wall Street Journal Asia) has a circulation of almost 81,000 subscribers; Wall Street Journal Europe has more than 86,000 subscribers. The online version of the paper -- WSJ.com -- is the nation's largest paid-subscription news website, with some 731,000 subscribers. The papers will also cut down on the number of stock quotes printed, since it's believed that most people get quotes online these days.

The shakeup is part of a broader plan to rejuvenate sagging readership, as former Journal devotees have increasingly turned to The Financial Times and even newsweeklies like The Economist. Dow Jones pulled the plug on its weekly Far Eastern Economic Review a few months ago because of lackluster performance. It purchased MarketWatch last year for $528 million but reported flat earnings this past February.

There are also plans to introduce a Saturday edition of The Wall Street Journal for U.S. readers. And, in a major change for the gray, staid publication, there will be splashes of color. While it might not make reading business news more entertaining, it will serve to give the paper's targeted readers -- the 30- to 40-year-old middle-manager demographic -- a quicker grasp of the day's news, while still offering in-depth coverage.

Although the Journal will undoubtedly stick to reporting financial news and maintaining a pro-business editorial slant, it's too bad, in a way: Most of us are still not certain whether Bill Gates is actually human -- or really is an alien. That story would be fun to read -- especially in the Journal.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey reads the Journal daily, but he does not own any of the stocks mentioned in the article.


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