Nieman Foundation at Harvard
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Nov. 17, 2009, 10 a.m.

The broadsheet as collector’s item. Why not?

Fifteen years ago few would have looked at the mass of pulp and ink that constituted a Sunday newspaper and thought, “Now there’s a thing of beauty.” But that’s how McSweeney’s is positioning the upcoming “San Francisco Panorama” edition of its literary magazine.

Panorama is a newspaper monster. It’s an old-school, bullet-stopping, 15″ x 22″ broadsheet. Take a look at the product page. The samples look like they’re plucked from Wired. This is a dutifully crafted product that’s got “collectible” written all over it.

And that’s the most interesting aspect of Panorama. What we all once viewed as a temporary container with a 24-hour expiration date is now being reborn in souvenir form. It makes sense. We seem hardwired to connect memories and physical products. Just look back to November 2008, when the U.S. presidential election gave newspapers a one-day reprieve from the economic apocalypse. Or consider the long history of front-page reprints. Newspapers and collectibles are already entwined. But with Panorama, perhaps we’re seeing the broadsheet format, with its hundreds of pages and multiple inserts and various content forms, re-imagined as a sort of long-form, luxurious physical good. It’s not just a frame-worthy memento. It’s the leather-bound first edition of the newspaper business.

Envisioning a newspaper as a product, rather than a mere delivery mechanism, taps into a mindset already present in adjacent industries. Savvy musicians and filmmakers long ago embraced limited-run exclusive editions aimed at the top one percent of their fans. That’s why the box set exists: to satiate fanatics. On the publishing side, Sports Illustrated cranks out hard-bound “championship” collections for all of the major leagues. There’s precedent here. And with some newspapers already gravitating toward a glossy magazine aesthetic, it’s not too far fetched to imagine big, bold broadsheets emerging as a high-end option for discerning news collectors and memory seekers. It’ll be interesting to see if Panorama opens a few eyes to that idea. (And if so, it’ll continue the strange trend of a typography-loving litmag innovating in the news business.)

POSTED     Nov. 17, 2009, 10 a.m.
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