Let’s Hear It for Bigger and Bolder—and to Hell With the Accountants

Screen shot 2014-04-06 at 12.37.07 PMBy Jack Limpert

The Washington Post has redesigned its Sunday magazine—making it “bigger and bolder.” The measurements haven’t changed all that much. It was 7 1/2 by 10 1/2 and now it’s 8 1/4 by 10 13/16. A small increase but the magazine does feel a lot bigger.

That 8 1/4 by 10 13/16 page size is the same as lots of other magazines, including The Washingtonian, my home for many years. How did we arrive at that page size?

When The Washingtonian started back in 1965, the page size was 9 by 12. By the time I arrived in 1969, it was down to 8 1/4 by 11 1/4, Then, over the years, we made tiny changes—all to make the magazine a bit smaller.

A bit smaller? If you’ve ever sat in on a publication’s annual budget meetings, you’d understand.

The key to the annual budget meeting is the consultants and accountants have to end it by going to the owner or publisher and boasting about the cost savings they’ve forced on the spend-thrifts who create the magazine. The numbers people have to come up with as many cuts as possible—as an editor I quickly learned to build a cushion into some budget requests, especially for things like editorial travel and entertainment. “Okay, it’s going to cause some complaining but we can make sure editors and writers don’t expense meals at any of those three-star restaurants.”

Back in the 1980s the editorial spending that drove the accountants the craziest were the monthly bills for long-distance phone calls. Why long distance bills of $15,000 a month or higher? Well, we always had a half-dozen editorial interns doing fact-checking and the way to do it pre-Google was to make lots of phone calls—to London if necessary.

When the cost of writer lunches, phone calls, and all other budget numbers had been beaten down, every so often someone would look at production costs and ask, “How much could we save on paper if the magazine was a  little smaller?”

That’s how we got from 9 by 12 in 1965 to today’s 8 1/4 by 10 13/16. And I’m sure some numbers guy recently has asked, “How about 8 1/8 by 10 11/16? The reader will never notice.”


  1. Big and UGLY. This thing looks like a box Lincoln Logs would come in. I bet they had a lot of meetings and focus groups.

Speak Your Mind